A new Carle Illinois College of Medicine student innovation is set to make mouth and throat surgeries safer by clearing the air of potentially hazardous surgical smoke. The device, AirCleanOR, is an oral cavity smoke evacuator designed for use in procedures like tonsillectomies, in which tissues must be cauterized, producing smoke that contains toxic and cancer-causing materials.

Research shows daily surgical smoke exposure is as harmful as smoking dozens of cigarettes, making it a health hazard for patients and health care workers. The AirCleanOR evacuator improves safety by continuously suctioning surgical smoke away from the surgical area, removing harmful airborne particles and compounds that could pose a health risk and keeping the surgeon’s field of vision clear.

AirCleanOR airflow
Diagram depicting the suctioning of surgical smoke by AirCleanOR.

The smoke evacuator is a tongue depressor that clips on to retractors commonly used to hold patients mouths open during oral surgeries. The tongue depressor has hollow channels and a port that connects with the tubing on a surgical vacuum, allowing surgical smoke to be suctioned off effectively.

“It’s a really simple solution,” said Zachary Meade, who first came up with the idea during the Innovation, Design, Engineering, and Analysis course, a key milestone in Carle Illinois’ curriculum that encourages students to innovate solutions to health care problems.

The AirCleanOR evacuator has been designed by Carle Illinois students Dora Lin, Ethan Chen, and Zachary Meade. The team envisions AirCleanOR will be hands free, so it’s easier to incorporate into the surgical routine.

The AirCleanOR device is one of 13 Capstone Innovations proposed by the future physician innovators in Carle Illinois’ Class of 2022. In the final phase of Carle Illinois’ engineering-based, innovation-oriented curriculum, fourth-year students research a problem identified during their clinical rotations, propose a solution, and then work with a cross-disciplinary team, including engineering students from The Grainger College of Engineering and business student consultants from The Gies College of Business, to develop a new prototype or process that will potentially change the practice of medicine and improve patient outcomes. M.B.A. candidate Harit Arora is assisting with the AirCleanOR business plan. Faculty advisors include Dr. Andrew Logeman and Engineering Professor Mariana Kersh. The Class of 2022 will present their final project designs on Capstone Presentation Day on May 5, 2022.

Capstone Innovations are supported by The Henry Dale and Betty Smith Family.