Aug. 16, 2012 at 1:25 PM ET
When the doctors sew a person up after abdominal surgery, things can go awry, causing added fees and malpractice expenses that reach into the billions every year. But a simple little disposable tool, one that looks like a cross between pliers and hole puncher, could ease this burden immensely, just by guiding the sutures during abdominal clean-up.
The handheld tool, called FastStitch, was invented by students at Johns Hopkins University after they learned that pushing stitches through the muscles in a person’s abdomen is akin to pushing a needle through a leather shoe. That is, it’s not easy. One slip can lead to dangerous and costly complications.
Herniation, for example, is when intestinal tissue can protrude through the abdominal wall if the muscle layer splits apart. This alone leads to $2.5 billion in additional costs each year, the students said.
By housing the needle within the plier-like tool, FastStitch helps prevent these complications, as demonstrated the video below. Doctors place the abdominal muscle, called the fascial layer, between the top and bottom arms of the device.
“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,” team leader Sohail Zahid explained in a news release.
The device also has a visual guide to help surgeons place the stitches at the proper distance from the incision and space them evenly.
Up to 5 million open abdominal surgeries are performed each year in the U.S. for cancer treatment, liver problems and other ailments. FastStitch, the students believe, can make post-operative suturing safer and simpler as well as reduce costs.
The team has formed Baltimore-based Archon Medical Technologies to research and develop the tool. Funding comes from grants and $80,000 in prize money the team has received at invention competitions. Animal testing is under way and human cadaver tests are expected later this year.