Problem Solver Designs Knee Replacement Tool

4/18/2012

A knack for problem solving led Mechanical Engineering undergraduate Karl Flores to Stevens Institute of Technology, one of the premier engineering schools in New Jersey. Karl applied that ability throughout his undergraduate education, culminating in the creation of his Senior Design project, a "Primary Knee Component Removal System." The device, affectionately referred to as a "slingshot" for its Y-shape with a band running across the top, was crafted by a Mechanical Engineering and Biomedical Engineering collaboration advised by Mechanical Engineering Distinguished Industry Professor Richard Berkof and Biomedical Engineering Industry Professor Vikki Hazelwood.

The slingshot is mechanized, powered by an oscillating hand piece that drives the "slingshot" back and forth to cut bone. The effective cutting mechanism is based on forty years of medical research, which the team says will aid in getting approval from the FDA – a major challenge in the medical device industry. Its unique shape gives physicians greater control and more freedom of motion in surgery, resulting in fewer, shorter operations. The device comes at a critical time, as aging baby boomers will likely turn to knee revision surgery to enhance their quality of life. About 40,000 knee revision surgeries take place annually in the United States, a number that is expected to increase by 600 percent in the next 20 years.

Karl's inspiration for the project came from a friend who has had four revision surgeries done on the same knee. "He described it as a very painful process, and did not wish to undergo the surgery at all, knowing the hardships afterwards," Karl explains. "The slingshot makes surgery a lot easier and quicker." Easier, faster revision surgery as well as the need for fewer operations can reduce the rate of infection.

Through Stevens five-year cooperative education program, Karl has worked for Ethicon and Stryker, two Biomedical Engineering companies that exposed him to the design and fabrication of surgical devices and prosthetic implants. These experiences enabled him to apply course learning to create real-life solutions for biomedical issues. "I have always enjoyed problem solving, and working with biomedical companies while still an undergraduate gave me the opportunity to use that skill to make a difference." With his co-op experience, he was well-prepared for the senior design project, which he found exhilarating for the opportunity to collaborate with a multi-disciplinary team on the entire design process.

"This project has been probably the most exciting work I have done in all of my time here at Stevens, Karl says. "I have worked on designing surgical devices in my previous work experiences, but it is not every day that you can work with a team and interact with surgeons to design a surgical device from square one."

Stevens provided Karl with a strong backing in Engineering and real-world experience designing and bringing a product to market, tools he uses to keep an edge in his field. Though much of his work has been in biomedical engineering, he plans to work for Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR) as a mechanical engineer, where he will continue to apply his problem solving skills that he has honed during his time at Stevens.