Cottler is preparing to start his own company to market his
invention -- the "smart bandage" he holds on his
hand. The device acts like a medicinal leech, helping restore
blood flow to a wound after surgery.
Improving on nature
have been used in medicine for more than 3,000 years and Patrick
Cottler thinks that's long enough.
Cottler, a doctoral candidate in biomedical
engineering, has invented a mechanical leech he believes is
superior to nature's blood suckers in several ways -- they are
just as effective in drawing blood through traumatized tissue
to reestablish blood flow, they don't migrate, they offer less
risk of infection and they're less likely to disgust the patients.
reestablish blood flow and promote healing after surgery, surgeons
not only must reattach arteries to enable the oxygen-rich blood
to flow into traumatized tissue, they must also ensure that the
blood flows through and out of the tissue into reconnected veins.
With plastic surgery in particular, reattached skin flaps present
a challenge in reestablishing blood flow.
leeches, or Hirudo medicinalis, are very effective in drawing
blood through skin flaps when attached near the sutures, as far
as possible from the blood inflow. Cottler's invention, which
looks like a plastic box about two inches square, holds a series
of hypodermic needles attached to a tiny vacuum pumping system
that draws blood into a small, replaceable reservoir. The box
is placed on the skin flap, with the needles puncturing the skin
near the sutures. When activated, the vacuum pump draws blood
through the skin flap and into the reservoir.
invention won the Virginia
Engineering Foundation's 1999 award for biomimicry, an annual
contest for engineering students who design machines that mimic
believes that his mechanical leeches -- to be called "smart
bandages" for marketing purposes -- offer enough advantages
to patients and hospitals that he is building a company around
his technology even as he completes his studies and refines the
been very exciting designing a device with technology for an innovative
lightweight vacuum pump actuator, originally developed by NASA,
to bring an age-old treatment into the 21st century," he
Cottler expects to defend his dissertation this summer. In the
fall, he'll launch Cottler Technologies LLC as a way to bring
his idea to market. He already has filed a provisional patent
application for the technology and is applying for a Small Business
Innovation Research grant to develop a working prototype of his
that pans out, he plans to refine the device to work on battery
power and advance to animal, and later, human testing.
that, who knows? The company's name -- Cottler Technologies --
suggests there are more ideas where the mechanical leeches came