When it comes to innovation, many of us rejoice at the opportunity to create but at the same time are left with no clear way to progress. This is not the case with Mohamad Najia, a former BME student who graduated from Georgia Tech in December 2014, who won the 2014 Capstone Expo along with teammates Drew Padilla, Andy Kolpitcke, and Jackie Borinski..In Najia’s eyes, it all simply comes down to an idea. As an engineer, he suggests, the best way to develop an innovative idea is by observation. When searching for inspiration for a Capstone Expo project, Najia and his team had the opportunity to watch two surgeries on patients with ptosis, a condition that causes drooping of the eyelids in 80% of elderly people.
“Watching the surgeries”, Najia says, “is a completely different experience in that you notice clinical needs that doctors may not initially present to you.”
The observations in the operating rooms gave him and his team the idea for their winning device, the OculoStaple, which reduces error in ptosis surgeries.
The way ptosis operations currently work, Najia explains, is by a complex procedure of cutting and suturing that has tremendous potential for error. Doctors need to clamp the eyelid tissue, suture directly under the clamp, and then cut tissue in between the suture and the clamp. Many times, however, the complexity of the process causes doctors to accidentally cut the suture. When this happens, they have to clamp the eyelids again and cut more eyelid tissue than intended, which can cause more vision problems in the elderly. Najia and his team created OculoStaple to completely eliminate the need for suturing. Instead, the device acts as a clamp that staples tissue automatically in front of the scalpel, giving doctors a clear path to cut while at the same time allowing for more precise cuts.
For Naija and his team, the most challenging part of the design process was coming up with an idea. “I think what I learned from this Capstone experience is that engineering is a lot more creative than people deem it to be,” Najia says. “One of the initial challenges was coming up with different approaches to what surgeons have been doing for decades. You may be given clinical needs, but you may discover by observing the user environment of the device that there are more explicit needs that need to be addressed.”
To overcome this initial challenge, Najia suggested, aspiring inventors in BME should speak with physicians about challenges they face while practicing and really think about how they can impact that specific field. Having a strong team with diverse backgrounds is also an asset, because members are suddenly introduced to multiple approaches to the same problem. Najia and Borinski, for example, are heavily into research and understand the processes of device testing and safety checks. Padilla and Kolpitcke, on the other hand, have experience in industry and understand manufacturing concepts. The other great challenge came with presenting the idea to many different kinds of people. What he learned, Najia recalls, is that the best way to do this is by eliminating “technical jargon” and presenting an idea in terms of its value. This way, the idea will appeal to a larger group of people.
Looking to graduate in 2015, Najia plans to make improvements to the current product and file for a US patent for OculoStaple within the next year. He also plans to continue biomedical engineering through a PhD program in the fall. For anyone with a passion for innovation Najia’s story definitely presents much from which to learn about the process of making an idea an actuality…