A patient who suffered a stroke after major heart surgery was the catalyst for a new medical device which could prevent surgical complications and even save lives.
Adrian Ng, now a junior doctor, was assisting with the surgery and saw for himself the potential effects when large blood vessels have to be clamped off – and he has since developed a prototype suture device to help speed up the process.
His company, called Suture Future, is designed to help with the reality that, the longer a patient has major blood vessels clamped off to prevent serious blood loss, the more likely the incidence of morbidity (complications) and deaths.
"So we have developed a device to help with the speed of suturing during an operation," he says. "In theatre, a surgeon uses a needle holder and forceps to install the sutures, using both hands and manoeuvring the suture needle in a circular motion.
"We estimate that the current suturing technique takes about four seconds per stitch. We are aiming with this device to cut that to about one second per stitch. That would reduce overall suturing time by 3-5 minutes which may not sound a lot – but every minute counts when it comes to major surgery."
Ng had the original idea when still a student at the University of Auckland and with it won $25,000 in seed capital in the university's Velocity $100k Challenge – the competition for emerging entrepreneurs. Since then, Uniservices – the university's commercialisation company which helps develop entrepreneurial ideas into reality – has invested a further $60,000.
Ng says that money has gone into developing a prototype: "We are still at a very early stage; to develop a surgical device normally takes years and a lot of money – and we are looking forward to other people becoming interested in investing.
"We are at the one-to-one prototype stage only and need more funding as engineers are expensive – but this is an important project and one we think will help a lot of people around the world."
Major heart or thoracic surgery, in particular, involves long periods of clamping to avoid blood loss from major blood vessels – often ranging from 10 minutes to an hour. During that time major organs like the brain or the kidneys can come under pressure and sustain damage – sometimes manifesting in strokes like the one Ng's patient suffered, crystallising the Suture Future device.
Because of intellectual property and non-disclosure agreements, little more can be said about the device and how it works though Ng says it will greatly aid surgeons in wrapping up major operations faster.
Velocity winners have a long history of turning concepts into commercial reality. Past prize winners have successfully developed ventures like PowerbyProxi, the wireless charging technology firm then sold to Apple.
The 2016 runner-up, CAT-TRAX, uses cloud computing to replace the paper-based system used to refer and manage cataract patients; it was rolled out in the Waikato area less than a year after Velocity, with the aim of dramatically enhancing the provision, delivery and quality of cataract surgery throughout New Zealand.
There are many other examples which can be seen here and Centre for Innovation and Entrepreneurship Director Wendy Kerr says: "Our Velocity finalists showcase some of the University of Auckland's most exciting ventures and feature many of our most promising innovators.
"The $100k Challenge is also a chance to celebrate the thousands of students and staff we have inspired, educated and supported; after 15 years, we know many of the people we engage each year go on to achieve amazing things all around the world.
The huge increase in Velocity participants – now over 2000 students and staff involved each year – represents not only a rich array and quantity of ideas "but also the growing desire of students to acquire entrepreneurial capabilities as part of their university journey."