Boning up in A & E

A portable unit the size of a glue gun will allow medics to connect seriously injured patients to a life-saving drip over 10 times faster than traditional systems.

When a person is wounded in an accident or on the battlefield they go into shock and their blood pressure drops dangerously. This can be rectified by administering fluid but the low pressure causes veins to collapse, making it very hard to find a suitable site to insert a needle and deliver fluids, medicines or blood.

On average it takes medical staff 12 minutes to insert an intravenous (IV) line, during which time the patient may die.

The VidaPort, designed by the University of Texas Health Science Centre and VidaCare, drills a small, hollow needle into the marrow cavity of a bone such as the shin or humerus (the bone of the upper arm), which then acts like a non-collapsible vein.

After applying a local anaesthetic and waiting 30 seconds, it takes just 10 seconds to insert the VidaPort needle and start fluid delivery.

Drips have previously been administered to babies in this way as the bone is soft enough to insert a needle manually, but adult bones are normally too hard to gain access to the marrow.

‘The ability of the VidaPort to drill through hard adult bone is the result of years of research on drill tip design, optimal torque requirements and revolutions per minute,’ said VidaCare chief executive Dr Larry J Miller.

‘Bone is different from wood, steel or plastic. It is a hard, living tissue. The driver was designed to deliver the torque necessary with the optimal rotational speed to reliably and safely enter the bone in less than five seconds of drilling.’

While its developers say that the shin and arm are ideal sites for VidaPort’s use as they avoid drilling near vital organs, in cases when the limbs have been damaged or are not suitable, bones such as the collar bone or shoulder blade will work just as well.

The technology is also being developed to help patients and doctors during cancer treatment. ‘Currently the procedure for bone marrow transplants and stem cell harvesting is gruelling and time consuming because the drill must be manually twisted into the bone using considerable force,’ said Miller.

‘Our equipment will reduce a 90-minute procedure to 10 minutes.’