How a Slurpee straw inspired a smudge-free laparoscope



[Image from the University of Texas at Austin]

Engineering students at the University of Texas at Austin have created a laparoscope designed like a 7-Eleven Slurpee straw that keeps a laparoscopic camera smudge-free.

Laparoscopes are fiberoptic camera tools used during minimally invasive procedures. Surgeons use the cameras to see inside the body, but some times the lens can get smudged. The device, called the ClearCam device, has a scoop-like shape that acts like a squeegee to keep the camera clean.

“This is a problem faced by surgeons every day,” said Chris Rylander, an associate professor of mechanical engineering at the University’s Cockrell School of Engineering. “When a laparoscope gets dirty in the body, due to condensation or contact with blood or fatty tissue, visibility is diminished. Surgeons must stop the procedure, pull the laparoscope out of the body, wipe it off and return to the task at hand, extending the time to complete the procedure and simultaneously generating potential safety concerns.”

The ClearCam device’s laparoscope cleaner uses a special geometrically-altered polymer that can be controlled externally to remove unwanted material from the camera’s lens. Surgeons can actuate the cleaner by opening the polymer tip and scraping unwanted materials from the lens, according to the researchers, all without scratching the lens.

The UT Austin researchers have applied for a patent for the device. Rylander has also recently created the medical device startup ClearCam to commercialize the technology.

Chris Idelson, a co-inventor of the ClearCam, and Egleide Elenes, a member of Rylander’s lab, both won $175,000 for the device in the Rice Business Plan Competition hosted by Rice University in April this year. The ClearCam company also won the $150,000 Houston Angel Network Investment Prize and the $25,000 Texas Business Hall of Fame Best of Texas Prize.

“An initial grant we received from the Cockrell School of Innovation Center allowed us to further commercial development and obtain clarification on what classification and regulatory route we would need to take,” Rylander said. “But the Rice Business Plan Competition helped to validate our efforts in the eyes of prospective investors.”

The group plans to use the prize money to work on the ClearCam more and create a path to market.

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  1. A prime example of the disconnect between industry and the investing communities. Cleaning scopes during surgery has been around for over 20 yrs and currently there are product solutions available. However the issue is the “issue” of scope cleaning during surgery is not major problem w all the robotic applications. The positive takeaway is these young men have learned a lot of excellent experience at a very young age which will help guide them for years to come.

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