Students’ disposable tool could represent ‘the future of suture’

Johns Hopkins undergraduates have invented FastStitch, a disposable suturing tool to guide the placement of stitches and guard against the accidental puncture of internal organs.

Although the device is still in the prototype stage, the team is said to have already received recognition and raised more than $80,000 (£50,831) this year in grant and prize money to move the project forward.

According to the students, FastStitch is needed to improve the way up to five million open abdominal surgeries are conducted annually in the US alone for treatment of cancer, liver problems and other ailments.

If incisions from those procedures are not closed properly, a patient can develop complications such as infection, herniation and evisceration, all of which require additional treatment and, in some cases, more surgery.

Addressing this problem became a biomedical engineering course assignment in which the students were asked to design and test a tool that would improve the way surgeons stitch together the strongest part of the abdomen, the muscle layer called the fascia, which is located just below the patient’s skin.

‘Doctors who have to suture the fascial layer say it can be like pushing a needle through the leather of your shoe,’ said team member Luis Hererra, a sophomore biomedical engineering major. ‘If the needle accidentally cuts into the bowel, it can lead to a sepsis infection that can be very dangerous.’

To help prevent this, the students designed the FastStitch needle to remain housed within the jaws of the stitching tool.

‘You place the fascial layer between the top and bottom arms of the device,’ said Sohail Zahid, leader of the student team. ‘Then, as you close the arms, the spring-loaded clamp is strong enough to punch the needle through the fascial layer. When this happens, the needle moves from one arm of the tool to the other.’

The device also features a visual guide to help ensure that the stitches are placed evenly, located the proper distance away from the incision and apart from one another.

This should also reduce post-operative complications, the students said. The hand-size pliers-like shape was chosen because it would feel familiar to surgeons and require less training. The prototype was constructed mostly of ABS plastic so that the instrument can be inexpensive and discarded after one use.

‘We’re developing the future of suture,’ said Zahid. ‘We believe that if the FastStitch tool is used to close abdominal incisions, it will help in three important ways: it will help surgeons by making the closure process simpler and safer; it will help hospitals by reducing costs; and, most importantly, it will help patients by reducing post-operative complications.’

Through the Johns Hopkins Technology Transfer office, the team members have obtained preliminary patent protection for their invention. All eight students are listed as co-inventors, along with Nguyen and Johns Hopkins graduate student Adam Clark.

The students — including Andy Tu, Daniel Peng, Stephen Van Kootyen, Leslie Myint, Anvesh Annadanam and Haley Huang — have formed a company called Archon Medical Technologies to conduct further research and development of the device.