Necessity Leads to Invention: A Cross-Campus Collaboration

Necessity Leads to Invention: A Cross-Campus Collaboration

Nurse anesthesia students used the tracheas designed and built by the engineering students to practice cricothyrotomy.

The School of Engineering and Computing creates an anatomically correct trachea model used by nurse anesthesia students to practice their skills.

It was great to cross disciplines in this way and to use our engineering skills to make something tangible.

— Emma Crowley ’24 | Bioengineering Major

Enrollment in Fairfield Egan’s Nurse Anesthesia program has never been stronger, but that happy fact presented a problem for assistant professor of the practice and simulation coordinator Christine Aloi ’12, DNP’19: with only one task model on which to practice airway skills, it was difficult for students to get the hands-on time they needed.

“One of the essential procedures a nurse anesthetist must master is a cricothyrotomy, which is an emergency surgical airway intervention used when the patient’s anatomy or medical condition makes it impossible to insert a breathing tube through the mouth,” explained Dr. Aloi. “We hold airway workshops during the course of the program, so having enough models on hand is important. We began to look for innovative ways around the problem.”

Enter the School of Engineering and Computing: might the biomedical students be able to create an anatomically correct trachea model that could be used by nurse anesthesia students to practice their skills? And by the way, could they get it done in just a couple of months, in time for the airway workshop scheduled for this summer?

Susan Freudzon, PhD, assistant professor of electrical and biomedical engineering, knew her students were up for the challenge. She tapped Emma Crowley ’24 and Julia Kilroy ’24, co-presidents of the biomedical student club, to lead the project. Together with biology major Sydney Rogers ’24, they met with Dr. Aloi to examine the task model Fairfield Egan had on hand, witness a demonstration of how it works, and take precise measurements from every angle. A human trachea is made of cartilage, which gives it some flexibility. The students first 3D-printed a model using the standard hard plastic called PLA, which is the easiest and least expensive material to use. “It was anatomically correct, but didn’t have the flexibility the nurses would need,” noted Crowley.

They switched to a more flexible, silicone-like material called TPU [thermoplastic polyurethane], and began adjusting the printer’s settings. “We had to determine how much infill, or thickness, was needed, the speed of the printing, and what kind of support to provide as the material came out of the machine,” Crowley said, clearly having relished the challenge.

The team ended up making four durable model tracheas, which will each be fitted with standard commercial tubing and a bag to mimic a functioning trachea and lung. “It was great to cross disciplines in this way,” said Crowley, “and to use our engineering skills to make something tangible.”

This will not be the last collaboration between the two schools. “We have a couple of ideas,” Dr. Freudzon said. “Our students don’t often get to see the immediate impact of something they’ve created, so I’m especially excited for them to see these models in use.”

Tags:  Egan School


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