Prototype device could take a load off of obese patients during surgery


May 11, 2012

The R-Aide is designed to lift up obese patients' abdominal fat during surgery, allowing them to breathe more easily

The R-Aide is designed to lift up obese patients' abdominal fat during surgery, allowing them to breathe more easily

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When an anesthetized obese patient is lying on their back on an operating table, the weight of their abdominal fat can make it difficult for them to breathe. It can also press down on and displace their organs, making certain procedures more challenging. Mehdi Razavi, director of electrophysiology clinical research at the Texas Heart Institute, had encountered such problems first-hand, with patients of his own. He decided to turn to Houston’s Rice University, to see if its students could come up with a solution. In response, a group of bioengineering seniors created something called the R-Aide, which uses vacuum-powered suction cups to lift up patients’ bellies.

The prototype, which was built for under US$200, utilizes suction cups taken from breast pumps – they are mounted on a horizontal steel beam and have very flexible rubber rims, that provide a good seal by conforming to the contours of the skin. These pumps are all hooked up to an electric vacuum pump, which in the case of an operating room could be the existing vacuum system.

Once the cups have sucked onto the patient’s abdomen, the beam is lifted up, and the two ends of it are each set into hooks on vertical posts located on either side of the table. The posts have hooks located at various heights, to accommodate patients of different sizes. This having been done, the abdominal fat is left hanging from the suction cups, instead of bearing down on the patient’s diaphragm.

To test the system, volunteers lay down on a table, with a 40-pound (18-kg) weighted slab of silicone filling in for belly fat. The system easily lifted it up and held its weight. Razavi also had the cups attached directly to his skin, and left there for about an hour. Although some redness resulted, he stated that no bruising occurred.

He has now filed for a patent, and may commercially develop the R-Aide through his medical technology company, Saranas. “The device will be very cheap, and the amount of training required to use it will be nominal,” Razavi said. “And the approval process, the regulatory pathway, is likely to be quite straightforward. I’ve run this by a regulatory specialist, and we believe strongly that it’s going to be an FDA Class 1, which is basically more paperwork than anything else.”

R-Aide wouldn’t be used on patients who were under heavy sedation or undergoing abdominal surgery, but could still prove to be quite useful on upper- or lower-body procedures.

More information is available in the video below.

Source: Rice University

About the Author
Ben Coxworth An experienced freelance writer, videographer and television producer, Ben's interest in all forms of innovation is particularly fanatical when it comes to human-powered transportation, film-making gear, environmentally-friendly technologies and anything that's designed to go underwater. He lives in Edmonton, Alberta, where he spends a lot of time going over the handlebars of his mountain bike, hanging out in off-leash parks, and wishing the Pacific Ocean wasn't so far away. All articles by Ben Coxworth
1 Comment

Patentable? Perhaps not. Vacuum lift devices of all sort are quite common, with many of them using the vaccum not only to grab the object being lifted (often with suction cups large and/or small), but also to suspend the object. Vacuum lifters are typically generally hung from a gantry, with the x-y types allowing infinite lift and positioning possiblities. In comparison the R-Aide is cheap, small, and portable, which will be a big advantage. The prototype may have only cost $200, but a working device suitable for hospital use will cost quite a bit more.

Bruce H. Anderson
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