Unlikely inventors credited with femur surgery breakthrough

HOUSTON - A procedure that has troubled doctors for years may have a solution, thanks to some unlikely inventors. 

Five undergraduate students at Rice University created a medical device that allows doctors to fix fractured bones in less time by using fewer X-rays. 

Dr. Ashvin K. Dewan, an orthopedic surgeon at Houston Methodist Sugar Land Hospital, said he knows what it's like to be called in to fix a broken femur for a patient in an emergency room. It's a rush against time, "so the stress is building," he said.

But in a long bone surgery, time isn't on a doctor's side, he said. The surgery involves placing a rod in the patient's leg and securing the rod through a hole at the bottom, which means drilling blind through hard bone.

"It's kind of like threading a needle with thread, but the only differences (is) you're trying to thread the needle from 50 feet away," Dewan said.

Doctors currently use a series of X-rays to help them find the hole in the rod, but it's a time-consuming process.

"As I'm taking these multiple X-rays, the pressure is mounting," Dewan said.  

More X-rays expose patients and staff to more radiation. 

"I was just, like, 'There needs to be a better way to do this,'" Dewan said.

Dewan turned to an unlikely group: five undergraduate students at his alma mater, Rice University.

"It was many, many weeks of getting better and better and better," said Ian Frankel, a Rice University senior and mechanical engineering major.

The students invented a device that locates the hole in the rod by detecting magnetic fields.

Dewan believes it could shorten the process by 60 % to 80 % saving valuable time when it matters most.

"So I think that's a substantial improvement in the existing process and I think it really could benefit the patient," Dewan said. 

Two of the students will continue developing their device after graduation and hope to apply to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for approval of the device. 

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