University of Utah Team Builds LED Surgical Retractor with Intent to Commercialize

Bio-medical engineering sophomores Jessica Ashmead and Annicka Carter are getting a first-hand look at what it takes to invent and commercialize a medical device. They developed a surgical retractor with a battery-powered LED in a freshman bioengineering class at the University of Utah called the OptiGuide.

They received national recognition for their efforts and started the patent process with hopes of eventually selling their device to hospitals across the country.

The young women started the project in spring 2011 while in a class called “Invent.” Their assignment was to come up with a concept for a product, then spend the semester researching and developing their idea.

After talking to local surgeons about the effectiveness of current lighting in an operating room, we discovered that there was room for improvement,” says 20-year-old Carter. “Although the light intensity in the operating room is great, shadows occupy the actual surgical cavity, making it more difficult than expected for surgeons to see what they are doing. We decided to design a tool that would get the light as close to the surgical cavity as possible,” she said.

Their device only exists as a basic prototype today, but they have filed a provisional patent application with help from the U’s Technology Commercialization Office. A provisional patent application is a placeholder for a full patent application, which they know is much more difficult to put together. The students also received $ 5,000 and an honorable mention at the national Collegiate Inventors Competition on Nov. 15 in Washington, D.C.

Next we are going to really research what the market wants and build an even better prototype so we can apply for a full patent next May,” 20-year-old Ashmead says. “This experience has motivated me to want to invent devices that really make a difference in the world. I want to do well in school, so I can get a job that allows me to do that all the time.”

Other similar medical retractors exist in the marketplace, so it is a big hurdle for OptiGuide to secure a full patent and market their device while proving how their retractor is unique. The team just started working with the Technology Commercialization Office to address this question, but they hope the OptiGuide’s battery power supply and the position of the lights is enough to make their device distinct.

The Collegiate Inventors Competition is organized by Invent Now, a national nonprofit organization, and it is open to university students from across the country. Eighty graduate and undergraduate teams entered the competition this year – of those, 11 became finalists. The OptiGuide team was different for being one of the few finalists to be composed of freshmen or sophomores.

It’s amazing what these young women have been able to accomplish with the help of their faculty mentors and the innovative programs offered at the U.” – Troy D’Ambrosio Director Lassonde Entrepreneur Center

The Lassonde Center works closely with the Invent class. Its involvement includes providing a prize for the winners of a competition at the end of the year.