Pediatric innovators showcase highlights inventions

Innovators Showcase Boston Children's HospitalSome great inventions were on view this week at the second annual Boston Children’s Hospital Innovators Showcase. Hosted by the hospital’s Innovation Acceleration Program and Technology & Innovation Development Office, the event featured everything from virtual reality goggles with gesture control to biomedical technologies. Below are a few new projects that caught Vector’s eye (expect to hear more about them in the coming months), a kid-friendly interview about the SimLab and list of inventions kids themselves would like to see. (Photos by Katherine Cohen except as noted)

Mini EKG leads

Baby EEG 2 20150415_InnovationForum-120EKGs can tell doctors a lot about what’s going on in a patient’s heart. But getting a good reading can be tough if the patient is a little baby in the ICU. No one makes baby-sized EKG leads (nurses must trim adult-sized leads) and placing the leads properly is a challenge. And the clips used to attach the leads to an EKG device are so heavy that they sometimes pull the leads off the baby’s chest. Michael Agus, MD, who runs the Division of Medicine Critical Care at Boston Children’s, is working on flexible, baby-sized leads that come packaged in a pre-positioned array — simply peel off a layer of plastic and press the leads onto the baby’s chest. Faster and more accurate positioning means better EKG readings, and better care.

Quick pressure checks

Heidary ear ICP measurement croppedA variety of brain/nervous system conditions and injuries, as well as brain tumors, can cause pressure inside the skull to rise. This increased intracranial pressure (ICP) puts pressure on the brain and spinal cord, threatening brain function and vision. ICP is usually measured during a spinal tap or by drilling a hole in the skull and placing a catheter or sensor, requiring general or local anesthesia. Neuro-ophthalmologist Gena Heidary, MD, PhD, has come up with a simple, noninvasive method to measure ICP that essentially sounds tones into the ear canal (not unlike a hearing test) and measures the echoes. She’s begun validating this measure in different forms of ICP.

Silken organs

silk-3 forms-croppedSilk turns out to be a great, non-immunogenic material for reconstructing the bladder, urethra and other hollow structures. Silkworm cocoons are washed and treated until fluffy and ultimately suspended in aqueous solutions with varying silk concentrations. Poured into molds, the solutions form a double-layered material—a dense barrier layer and a foamy layer with pores of varying sizes, depending on how durable or biodegradable the tissue needs to be. Investigators Joshua Mauney, PhD, and Carlos Estrada, MD, are now focusing on reconstruction of the esophagus and other tubular organs in the gastrointestinal tract.

Aiding failing hearts

Here’s a new kind of ventricular assist device (VAD) for heart failure. The HarVAD has no contact with blood, so the risks of serious infection and blood clotting are dramatically lowered compared to the risks with current devices. As described by co-inventor Ellen Roche, an MD/PhD candidate at Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, the device goes around the heart, squeezing and twisting it to maintain the heart’s functionality. Now being tested in animals, the device may eventually have the potential to restore normal heart function. At that point, it could be removed or simply turned off and left to biodegrade within the body.

Sepsis soother

sepsis device filters out cytokinesYou can’t lay all of the blame for sepsis on bacteria. The immune system’s overenthusiastic inflammatory response is at fault, too. With that in mind, Daniel Kohane, MD, PhD, and Brian McAlvin, MD, are working on a system for filtering the cytokines that fuel the inflammation from the blood of sepsis patients. Antibodies lining the tubes latch on to overabundant cytokines and pull them out of the blood. The filtered blood would then go back into the patient. This approach, Kohane and McAlvin think, could help turn inflammation down and save the body from itself.

Remote bedside drug checks

(courtesy Jennifer Taylor)
(courtesy Jennifer Taylor)

When a nurse gives a medication at the bedside, a second nurse comes in to observe and verify the dose. But flagging down a nurse on a busy hospital floor can be pretty challenging. Under a grant from the Innovation Acceleration Program’s FastTrack Innovation in Technology (FIT) program, a team of nurse-healthcare IT specialists prototyped RNSafe, a mobile system that enables dedicated “bunker” nurses to do medication checks remotely, viewing real-time videos taken by bedside nurses with iPhone cameras. The phone pictures are clear enough to verify doses in syringes, and have stood up to tests of different medications, colors and lighting conditions. “The resolution is extremely clear,” says project co-developer Jennifer Taylor, RN. “We have a long list of floors that want to pilot it.”

For the kids

Kids, too, were given a chance to propose inventions. Here are a few things they mentioned—and we’re right there with them:

  • a medicine that I can take once and never have to take again – but it keeps me healthy forever
  • something to take away and get rid of all of the shots
  • a cure for all of the diseases that cause so much pain.
  • a robot that brings all of the kids ice cream in the hospital

Kids in the hospital could tune into the Showcase from the comfort of their rooms by watching live interviews from the hospital’s Seacrest Studio. Here, Melissa Burke and Laura Soares of the Boston Children’s Hospital Simulator Program describe for kids what SIMPeds does and why—especially when it comes to 3D printed organs.

For more on the Showcase:

Boston Children’s Hospital shows off four new internally developed digital health tools (MobiHealth News)
From wearables to robotics: Boston Children’s Hospital shows off health innovations (Boston Business Journal)