Component Management

Smart materials to help deliver emergency oxygen

16th December 2014
Barney Scott

Inventors at Nottingham Trent University are using smart materials to develop a low-cost steerable medical device to help doctors insert a life-saving breathing tube into a patient’s windpipe to provide oxygen in emergency situations. The steerable endotracheal bougie, being developed by a team led by Professor Philip Breedon, Smart Technologies, aims to improve the way that doctors insert endotracheal tubes into patients who are in intensive care or under a general anaesthetic.

More than a million such procedures are carried out in the UK each year, but up to 11% of patients have an airway which is difficult to navigate with a breathing tube, which can leave them at risk of reduced blood-oxygen levels and potential brain damage.

A long, flexible rod called a bougie, which doctors insert into a patient’s airway to establish a route for the tube to be guided over, is already used, but existing models have to be routinely removed and reshaped while navigating a patient’s windpipe, which can lead to delays. In some cases it isn’t possible to insert a breathing tube at all.

The design centres on the use of Flexinol, a nickel-titanium shape memory alloy which is used as an artificial muscle. Two Felxinol wires are situated in the disposable bougie casing and when heat is applied to one of the wires via an electric current it shortens, enabling the flexible tip to be steered via a detachable controller.

“What we’ve developed through the use of smart materials is a steerable bougie tip which can be inserted quickly and with a much greater chance of success,” said Professor Breedon, Professor of smart technologies. “The tip can move by more than 120° within a second, which is more than adequate for the clinician’s needs. And it can be controlled by one person, which is ideal for the circumstances of an emergency.”

The research team comprises Professor Breedon, Luke Siena, a postgraduate researcher at the School of Architecture, Design and the Built Environment, and Dr James Armstrong of Nottingham University Hospitals NHS Trust.

“We think that this invention has real potential to fill a unique and sizeable gap in the market. The design is compatible with the endotracheal tubes currently used by the NHS and we expect it will be cost-effective to manufacture, commented Mr Siena. “Our ultimate aim is for it to be used routinely by clinicians and help improve the way that patients are dealt with in what can be very difficult situations for medical staff.”

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