For medical professionals, it's a nightmare scenario; the needle stick.
Now engineer Alex Berry and Sutrue Ltd have developed an automated medical stitching device to enable doctors and surgeons to close wounds faster – and with greater accuracy.
The Sutrue device is designed to contain the needle section of the suture within an enclosed plastic cartridge to help avoid most injury situations.
The device was prototyped using a 3D printer and Berry believes having such a tool on his desktop meant he could quickly produce a series of iterations of his design. Using his Form 1+ 3D printer, Berry says he could validate precision and fit issues of his prototype devices within three hours.
"It was about six months of work in a week," Berry says. "It wasn't just faster, it was cheaper too. We had one set of components that had cost us $160. With our own printer, it came down to $5.37, so it's a big difference."
The final design will allow suturing to be used as the wound closure technique in a wider range of applications from laparoscopic (keyhole) surgeries to robotic surgical procedures.
Powered by a motor encased in the handle, the drive is transferred through a gear mechanism to pairs of driven rollers that work together to grip a needle and cause it to rotate. Featuring buttons to control forward and backward motion, the user presses the forward button once which sets the needle in position to allow placement in the tissue to be sutured. The backward option is used if it's found that the needle is in the incorrect position.
According to Berry, the device will have the added benefit of minimizing the risk of needle-stick injuries.
Statistics say that every year, two million healthcare workers around the globe suffer needle-stick injuries when they come in contact with hypodermic and suturing needles. Of those injuries, 15 percent occur during suturing procedures. Some reports say that such injuries amount to some 3.5 million incidents a year.
According to Berry, the Sutrue device allows less experienced members of a surgical team to take on the task of wound closure in an operation and he believes it will have potential uses in dental, veterinary and military applications.
The first successful design for the device was completed in 2013 with the help of funding from the National Innovation Centre in the United Kingdom.
Berry says he's also experimented, at Royal Brompton Hospital, with making parts which would allow the device to take on 'beating heart surgery.'