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Rice students work on weighty problem for doctors


"I thought if there was a way to support his belly, he would probably do much better and there would be less chance of having to declare an emergency and put a breathing tube in," he said.

Razavi envisioned a device that could not only help patients breathe by gently relieving pressure on the abdomen, but would also save hospitals money. "Hospitals aren't reimbursed by the insurance companies for medical complications," he said. "This could help avoid the cost of having to put a breathing tube in, which is not going to be reimbursed."

The doctor's pitch to the Rice students "sounded a little weird," Truong said. But a search of the literature by Razavi and the team turned up no evidence that such a device already existed.

"I would have heard about it," Razavi said.

"We asked around to see if doctors were interested," Prevost said. "It seems like it's an issue they just deal with. They get assistants to hold up the weight or pick it up themselves, but when we asked them if they'd be interested in a device, they said, 'Yeah, that would be good.'"

Razavi, a cardiologist, installs pacemakers through the chest and accesses arteries to the heart through the groin. He said he would use a respiratory assist device "for everything I do. A lot of the time, the abdominal content pushes down and distorts the whole anatomy of the groin, so I could use this to hold it back. But I can see it being used in any number of ways, not only in hospitals and cardiac catheterization labs but also in outpatient clinics."

Once they decided noninvasive suction was the proper approach, the students needed suction cups that would gently caress the skin without bruising it while maintaining the vacuum. "The cups we used come from breast pumps," Yoon explained. "They have flexible rubber rims that conform to the contours of the skin, so they keep a good seal."

The cups, which would link to an operating room's vacuum system,

Contact: David Ruth
Rice University

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