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  5. Anesthesia applicator device wins 2014 Innovative Minds Prize

Anesthesia applicator device wins 2014 Innovative Minds Prize

SELA team members  James Dorrance, Terah Hennick, Katherine Baldwin, and Alyssa Mitchell.

SELA, a novel anesthesia applicator device for medical procedures, won the $10,000 Innovative Minds Award on May 9 at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. 

The law firm Perkins Coie LLP sponsors the campus-wide award, which goes to the UW-Madison student team that presents the year’s highest-potential and most market-ready innovation.

The SELA Medical team of biomedical engineering students Katherine Baldwin, James Dorrance, Terah Hennick, Alyssa Mitchell created the Selectable Endotracheal Lidocaine Applicator (SELA), a medical device that sprays anesthesia into the throat of a patient who will undergo a laryngoscopy. During a laryngoscopy, a physician directs a laryngoscope, a rigid tubular device, through a patient’s mouth and down the larynx to get a view of the patient’s throat region and open up the airway. 

Once the airway is opened, it can be numbed by an anesthetic such as lidocaine. Physicians would then perform a medical procedure such as placing a tube through the patient’s mouth and down into the windpipe.

Team members say it’s important that the patient’s airway is sufficiently anesthetized because the placement of an endotracheal tube for airway maintenance during general anesthesia causes stimulation that can result in adverse side effects such as increases in blood pressure and cranial pressure. These effects increase the risk of a patient suffering a stroke or heart attack during the procedure. Elderly and obese patients are already at a heightened risk of these complications.  

Mitchell says studies show that the application of an anesthetic such as lidocane prior to or during a procedure reduces the incidence and severity of these complications. 

The team created the SELA device to address an unmet need in the market. Anesthesia applicators currently on the market are designed only for direct laryngoscopy, in which a physician uses a laryngoscope to straighten the patient’s airway in order to get a direct line of sight into the airway. 

But a newer technique—indirect laryngoscopy—is growing in the medical field because it allows physicians to see around difficult airways. Indirect laryngoscopes use video or optics in order to view the patient’s airway indirectly, while allowing the patient to maintain a more natural position. 

Both current applicators work best with direct laryngoscopy; in fact, they can pose safety hazards for patients when used with indirect laryngoscopy, says Hennick. 

SELA began as a design project inspired by a real need in the medical community. Dr. Richard E. Galgon, an anesthesiologist at the University of Wisconsin Hospital, came to the student team with a problem: No lidocane applicators on the market worked well with indirect laryngoscopies. 

“Our goal with SELA is to fill the gap in the lidocane applicator marketplace by offering the only lidocane applicator on the market actually designed to work with indirect laryngoscopes, while offering increased functionality with direct laryngoscopes due to its improved handle-ability and multiple spray patterns,” says Dorrance.

Hennick says the team analyzed the limitations of current applicators to design a superior device. 

“The universal SELA solution provides multiple spray options, so it can be used with all types of laryngoscopies and even endoscopies—that’s the major novelty of our device,” says Hennick. “In addition, it has improvements on current applicators; it’s longer and has more ideal mechanical characteristics.”

The team has demonstrated these improvements through proof-of-concept, mechanical and spray pattern testing. In a survey of six anesthesiologists, they preferred the SELA device over competitors in all categories, Hennick says. 

The team’s next steps will be to develop a third-generation, gain market approval from the Food and Drug Administration, and file for a full utility patent. 

Seven teams competed for the Innovative Minds award. Judges for the prize were Perkins Coie partners David Anstaett and Christopher Hanewicz; Dennis Barnum, director of operations for Thalchemy, a UW-Madison startup; and Marnie Matt, a patent advisor at an innovative medical software company and former senior intellectual property manager at the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation.

Innovative Minds is a “best of show” award that recognizes the student team with the strongest overall commitment to commercializing their ideas. Judges scored the student teams based on the content and quality of their oral presentation, the quality and marketability of their idea, and on their two-page report.

The seven teams that competed for the Innovative Minds have all won, or placed in, one or more of the signature UW-Madison innovation, entrepreneurship or business competitions: Innovation Days, the Qualcomm Wireless Innovation Prize, the Wisconsin Energy and Sustainability Challenge, and the G. Steven Burrill Business Plan Competition.

Adam Malecek