Student Innovation Trains Future Clinicians to Safely, Effectively Intubate Patients

March 8, 2022

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Capstone Innovation header

A new device developed by two Carle Illinois College of Medicine students is set to help other medical students safely master a common lifesaving but difficult-to-learn medical procedure. The team’s innovation improves on the design of manikin simulators used in medical education, to teach the skill of intubation – insertion of a breathing tube into a patient’s airway to maintain oxygen flow when the airway is blocked or when the patient is undergoing surgery.

Proper intubation technique is a skill that becomes second nature to seasoned clinicians, but it can be difficult to master for novices who train using manikin simulators. While preparing for their clinical rotations, Carle Illinois students Lidija Barbaric and Aaron Brown experienced some of those shortcomings first-hand.

“The simulators were not optimal in mimicking actual patient anatomy or difficult airways you may see in the OR,” said Barbaric.  A real patient’s size, age, gender, and other unique attributes, such as dental variations are all factors that can affect intubation, but existing simulators don’t account for those physiological differences.

After consulting with senior bioengineering students, the Barbaric and Brown team created a more realistic insert that replaces the hard plastic windpipe section of existing manikins. “The prototype is a model of the larynx and trachea which mimics real human anatomy in size and material properties,” Barbaric said. “Our design starts with the specific biomedical properties of human tissue. It utilizes both 3D printing and rubber-like molding to provide improved feel and more a more true-to-life intubating experience.”

The team says additional customizable inserts can be created to reflect physiological variations, giving students the ability to practice and master intubation skills on simulators that match variations commonly seen in the real patient population.

Barbaric says the prototype performed well in a test by an experienced respiratory therapist and a simulation expert, but further testing with senior medical professionals is planned. The team is also fine-tuning their design to increase the insert’s durability and ease of placement within the simulator manikin.

The Laryngoscopy Simulation 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, to develop a new prototype or process that will potentially change the practice of medicine and improve patient outcomes. Faculty advisors include Drs. Paul Weyker (business), James Jonna, and Karen White. Senior Bioengineering students who worked on the prototype include Hannah Laverty, Dhruvi Kalaryia, Taylor Wills, Kristin Lai, with supervision of their advisor, Professor Holly Golecki. The Master’s in Engineering partner was Yahia Rashed. 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.

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This story was published March 8, 2022.