Cool Idea

Winning Inventions Help Feed Patients and Improve Lives

Protolabs’ Cool Idea Award Healthcare Grant winners ensure newborns and people on feeding tubes get the nutrition they need

This 3D-printed component serves as a syringe holder for a gravity feed system, similar to an IV.

Tiffany Morris, a registered nurse at Maryland-based MedStar Franklin Square Medical Center, noticed that nurses in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) spent a great deal of time feeding newborns in certain incubators. The process required that a nurse hold a feeding syringe, which was filled with milk or formula, above the baby’s head. But this process could take hours each day. The MedStar Health team came up with a solution that clamps the syringe into a newly designed 3D-printed part that can hold four different sizes of syringe. That compact part, in turn, is attached to a pole letting gravity do the work, much like an IV.

“Protolabs’ assistance will help us move our gravity feed syringe holder from concept to a working part of our neonatal practice,” said Morris. “Our team hopes this small device can be a major step forward for NICU nursing and potentially for patient care in other settings.”

The Protolabs grant was used to improve the part’s design. The iterative prototyping process revealed the need to smooth corners and add sturdier syringe clips. They also discovered that the device needed gaskets to make it safer for infants and to prevent damage to the incubator.

Improving Health and Social Lives of People on Feeding Tubes

Life for people with enteral (feeding) tubes can be difficult. Inventor Andy Williams has known this struggle for years. “I was in the hospital in the emergency room on average once a week, sometimes two times a week, for infections,” said Williams. “I was hospitalized once a month for infections—sometimes for up to a week-long period. Then, I’d have to take antibiotics at home for three to four weeks.”  

Design by Andy Williams, these molded parts will help those who rely on enternal feeding tubes to lead more active lives.

Williams teamed up with Dr. Eric Blumrosen of Cleveland Clinic in an effort to improve outcomes for patients like him.

In current practice, a feeding tube is surgically placed directly into the digestive tract, but the interface often leaks. Patients often complain about how the highly acidic fluids irritate and injure them, sometimes requiring hospital stays. The leaks also make social lives difficult, preventing patients from living normal lives. Cleveland Clinic Innovation’s solution—called a percutaneous tube leak stopper—forms a wide seal around the enclosed hole. A tube is inserted through a hole in the stopper. Without friction from direct contact with the moving tube, patient comfort significantly improves, and so does quality-of-life.

“The leak stopper will let bedridden patients lead a more active life,” said Williams. “Right now, for most people who experience leaks, it’s the number one thing on their mind all day. This invention will let them push it to the back of their minds and go on with normal activities.”

Protolabs’ in-kind manufacturing grant gave Cleveland Clinic Innovations access to manufacturing engineers who helped improve the device’s design for commercial use. It also helped fund prototype injection-molded parts.

The Cool Idea Award: Healthcare Grant

The Cool Idea Award: Healthcare Grant is an extension of Protolabs’ flagship Cool Idea Award and is open to members of the Cleveland Clinic Healthcare Innovations Alliance, a network of healthcare institutions and corporations focused on innovation. Selected winners are awarded in-kind manufacturing services from Protolabs to support product development, such as building prototypes or supporting initial production runs, with a target for eventual commercialization of products.