Protolabs awards grants to support innovation in feeding tubes

Here at PlasticsToday, we’re fans of Protolabs’ Cool Idea program, which awards grants to deserving inventors and entrepreneurs that can be applied toward the company's manufacturing services to build prototypes or set up an initial production run. The program has been so successful that the company recently introduced a medtech-related offshoot—Cool Idea Award: Healthcare Grant. The digital manufacturing company has now announced a pair of innovative healthcare inventions that it is helping to get off the ground: A 3D-printed device designed to hold feeding syringes in neonatal intensive care units (NICUs) and a molded part that prevents feeding-tube leaks.

Neonatal feeding tube syringe holder
The 3D-printed part clamps the feeding syringe and is placed on a pole, similar
to an IV device.

A registered nurse at the MedStar Franklin Square Medical Center in Baltimore came up with the idea of a feeding-syringe holder when she observed the amount of time that nurses in the NICU were spending feeding newborns using a handheld syringe. The MedStar Health team came up with the device pictured here. The 3D-printed part clamps the syringe and is placed on a pole, similar to an IV device, letting gravity do the work.

“Protolabs’ assistance will help us move our gravity-feed syringe holder from concept to a working part of our neonatal practice,” said Tiffany Morris, the RN who initiated the project. “Our team hopes this small device can be a major step forward for NICU nursing and potentially for patient care in other settings.”

Personal experience is what led inventor Andy Williams to team up with a doctor at the Cleveland Clinic to improve the quality of life for patients with enteral feeding tubes. Over the course of his life, Williams paid many visits to the emergency room and was repeatedly hospitalized for infections stemming from a leaky interface in the feeding tube.

feeding tube leak stopper
A percutaneous tube-leak stopper forms a wide seal around the enclosed hole through which the tube is inserted. Image courtesy Protolabs.

Feeding tubes typically are surgically placed directly in the digestive tract, but the interface often leaks, making it difficult to lead a meaningful social life and often leading to hospitalization. Williams and Cleveland Clinic doctor Eric Blumrosen developed a percutaneous tube leak stopper, which forms a wide seal around the enclosed hole through which the tube is inserted. The leak stopper will allow bedridden patients to lead a more active life, according to Williams, and the absence of friction, caused by direct contact with the tube in conventional systems, improves patient comfort and quality of life, he added.

Both of these inventions benefited from Protolabs’ in-kind manufacturing grant not only because of the financial support, but also because the available engineering resources helped to improve the design of the devices. Notably, the iterative prototyping process used with the syringe holder revealed that the device needed gaskets to make it safer for infants and to prevent damage to incubators.

The Cool Idea Award: Healthcare Grant program is open to members of the Cleveland Clinic Healthcare Innovations Alliance, a network of healthcare institutions and corporations focused on innovation. The broader Cool Idea Award program is geared toward early-stage companies and entrepreneurs. For more information or to apply, go to the Protolabs website.

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