Ordinary stomachaches are so common, we usually take them for granted. However, each year, almost one-third of the U.S. population suffers from more serious, potentially dangerous digestive and gastrointestinal problems: colorectal cancer, infections, pancreatitis, ulcers and diverticular disease, which require endoscopic procedures for diagnosis and treatment.
In fact, more than three million gastroscopic surgeries are performed annually using an endoscopic light source attached to a gastroscopic tube. Unfortunately, 54% of patients undergoing these procedures experience post-operative infections as a result of tube insertion.
The quarter-inch tube that consists of four or five channels to host the lens, camera or videoscope, as well as instruments, also accommodates a light delivery system, which can be a fiber optic cable or other source of illumination, taking up 30% of the tube’s diameter. Because the tube directly compresses the mucous membranes and can tear the lining of the esophagus, infections occur in more than half of these procedures.
For her senior design project, biomedical engineering student Aleksandra Petelski developed EndoBrite, a brilliant solution to this pressing problem.
Turning to the natural world, Petelski wrested the chemistry of fireflies to eliminate the need for an external light source or use of guide wires in gastroscopic procedures.
Together with faculty advisor Art Ritter, distinguished service professor in the Department of Biomedical Engineering, Petelski developed the idea to use a bioluminescent protein system for light production. Patients undergoing the procedure or surgery simply swallow a translucent, acid-resistant capsule that contains the same enzyme as the firefly, which illuminates the stomach, enabling the practitioner to see inside the organ. After 30 minutes, the gelatin capsule dissolves, which is then passed through the digestive system with no residual effect.
The name of the enzyme, luciferase, is derived from Lucifer, the root of which means 'light-bearer.' The firefly Photinus pyralis, the most common species in North America, has an organ on the ventral side of its abdomen that triggers the light-producing enzymatic reaction.
"EndoBrite eliminates the need for a lamp to be inserted through the mouth into the stomach during gastric surgery, which can damage the trachea and vocal chords,” says Ritter. “The device designed by Aleks drastically reduces the possibility for infection and improves patient comfort."
Spending on gastrointestinal diseases in the United States has been estimated at 142 billion per year in direct and indirect costs. In addition to its healthcare and wellness benefits, EndoBrite also offers patients a cost-savings upwards of 78 million, annually, by reducing the incidence of throat trauma and infection.
Petelski also worked with clinical advisor, George Pilligren, M.D., a surgeon at North Shore Health who provided guidance about the research and procedures used in gastric surgery, frequently meeting with the student.
Already, Petelski is engaged in the patent process, eager to commercialize EndoBrite while simultaneously completing her degree at Stevens.
“Everything that we’ve done for senior design has prepared us for what we will do in industry—purchasing, quality-testing, marketing—pretty much everything,” says Petelski.
“It’s great to see a product evolve from start-to-finish,” says Petelski. “Senior design helps you see the practicality of the problem you’re trying to solve within any field you plan to pursue.”
The students will present their project at the Innovation Expo, on April 27, 2016.