Participants in a biodesign course at UNM have received the Innovation & Commercialization Award of $50,000, administered by the National Institute of Health and the Dean’s Office in the School of Engineering after brainstorming proposals for two inventions meant to solve clinical issues in the operating room.

“Our device was inspired with one main purpose in mind: to save people’s lives,” said Rachel Tufaro, Orthopaedics Biomechanics & Biomaterials Laboratory Research Team member and master’s student.

“Due to high energy trauma, an open ring pelvic fracture can occur. This results in a 40 percent to 60 percent mortality rate,” she said. “Our specific device design was inspired by the movement of the fingers in the hand.”

Christina Salas, an assistant professor in the UNM Orthopedics Research Division, said during the course the students were divided into two teams, with each team focusing on one of two problems.

Thomas Howdieshell, professor of trauma surgery, presented in the beginning of the semester as clinical issues in the area of trauma surgery that could benefit from new technology development, Salas said.

One team was led by Salas and the other by Sang Han, a professor of chemical and biological engineering, she said. The students in each group worked together over the remainder of the semester to narrow their solutions to the problem to one invention in which a proposal could be presented to a panel of judges.

The device is meant to be positioned around the hips of the patient and tightened until the fractured pelvis is realigned, Salas said. This is done using a c-clamp type closure which allows for full abdominal and pelvic access for emergency medical procedures.

“The device would be used in trauma settings such as during transport from the scene of an accident or battlefield to the primary hospital where definitive treatment would occur,” she said.

The teams are expected to receive the money, which they are splitting, sometime this month to develop prototypes of the devices that have been proposed, Salas said. Funding is meant to support fabrication costs including testing and validation of the respective devices.

The biodesign team has submitted applications for provisional patents for these devices through the UNM Science and Technology Corporation (STC) and are actively seeking investors and/or collaborators to bring these devices to market, she said.

“We plan on developing the device,” Tufaro said. “We will perform preliminary studies on cadavers. The money will be used for supplies to make our device and will be spent on things such as cadavers for the study. Our hope is that after successful preliminary studies, that we can partner up with a startup medical device and commercialize our product. Hopefully one day this product will have the chance to be on the market and saving people’s lives.”

Salas also said she wants the device to help both patients and practitioners as well.

“It’s an honor to receive funding from these two sources to move our technology from idea conception to final product,” Salas said. “We believe this device will assist trauma surgeons in providing appropriate care without the limitations that currently exist with commercially available pelvic stabilization products.”

The 16-week biodesign course is intended to become an annual course at UNM for graduate and senior level undergraduate engineering students, making it available to those interested to sign up in fall 2016.

Denicia Aragon is a staff reporter with the Daily Lobo. She can be contacted at on Twitter @dailylobo.