Imagine trying to solve a medical challenge that has never been solved. Or tackling a complex surgical problem with no precedent. At Mayo Clinic, challenges such as these are a routine part of a physician's experience.
Fortunately, Mayo physicians are not alone as they work to solve today's toughest medical questions. In addition to the entire staff of Mayo Clinic health care professionals, Mayo physicians and surgeons are backed by the Mayo Division of Engineering, which has a long, rich history of scientists and physicians collaborating on behalf of patients, creating precision devices and fabricating detailed models.
When Mayo Clinic surgeons were planning a surgery to separate a pair of conjoined twins, the engineering division developed a physical model of the shared liver. While an MRI allowed the surgeons to see the liver on a screen, the life-size physical model created by the engineers was made of a material that allowed the surgeons to see the veins, arteries and ducts inside the shared liver in a true 3-D rendering they could hold, examine and turn over in their hands.
With that model, surgeons were able to determine the best place to separate the organ, as well as where they would need to clamp arteries to protect the vascular system of each part of the liver during the procedure. The model aided physicians with visualization, and also served as an important collaborative tool for the large team assigned to the case.
Another example is a tool for cardiac surgeons. As the demand for minimally invasive surgical solutions increased, the engineering division created a surgical tool for cardiac surgeons performing mitrovalve prolapse surgery, a procedure to correct a leaking heart valve. Working with a team of cardiac surgeons, engineers created a device that can be inserted through a small incision in the chest cavity to gain access to the apex of the heart.
The device allows surgeons to grasp the mitrovalve, sew a repair stitch guided by fiberoptic illumination, and correct the patient's valve while avoiding open-heart surgery. In addition to fixing the medical problem, the innovative tool provides a less traumatic, less expensive alternative to the traditional surgical solution.
The Mayo Clinic Division of Engineering employs 60 mechanical, structural, electrical, chemical and biomedical engineers, programmers, machinists, technologists, designers and even a glass blower. Led by Chief of Engineering Kevin Bennet, the team provides a large cross-section of the technologies that are used to make medical devices. The engineering team works with the medical team to understand the problem and come up with a variety of potential solutions. From there, the engineers, designers and technologists develop 3-D models and prototypes that can be tested in the lab and, with Food and Drug Administration approval, on patients, to see if problems can be solved with the new device or technology.
"We're here as a service to Mayo Clinic, all of the physicians, researchers and staff so that as a physician sees a patient and identifies problems, there is an opportunity to call anyone in the engineering division for assistance," says Bennet.
"As we're working on projects for our physicians or researchers, if we need to get anesthesiologists, surgeons, endocrinologists and gastroenterologists together with the engineers and other allied health staff, we can do that. We can call a meeting and, if it doesn't detract from patient care, all those people will be there at the table, discussing the problem and brainstorming how to solve it," says Bennet. "That gives the Mayo engineering group the medical expertise we need to put together solutions that can meet the needs of our patients."