Close-up of the improved tracheostomy tube by Amanda DicksAmanda Dicks (2016)

Biomedical Engineering

Over the course of her studies as a biomedical engineering major, Amanda Dicks worked on projects and internships that dealt with total knee replacement and spinal issues. For her capstone project, she sought a challenge in a different medical area. Once she settled on a next generation tracheostomy tube, she discovered something somewhat stunning. Research and improvements in the device is relatively stagnant.

“I found a lot of research from the past, from back in the 80s sometimes,” said Dicks, Indiana Tech’s Outstanding College of Engineering Student and Outstanding Biomedical Engineering Student for 2015-16. “Some of the research was kind of outdated. The tracheostomy tube had improved a lot, but after a couple of decades they kind of felt it has been perfected and said, ‘This is good enough’ and they kind of forgot about it.”

As Dicks researched further, she realized there is little momentum for improving or updating the tube. Dicks’ goal was to produce a functioning prototype that would improve the comfort level for patients. In preparation, she studied the FDA regulations she would have to follow, the products currently on the market, the sizes and features of the products and then delved into some of the major patient complaints. Additionally, she reviewed the FDA approved materials focusing on mechanical properties and their ASTM Standards to select a material to best meet customer requirements.

There were hurdles along the way, including the fact she wanted to use polyurethane with the tube’s cuff, but the cost was prohibitive for a senior project. She had to work around that roadblock with other materials for her prototype.

Ultimately, she produced a next generation tracheostomy tube that is more flexible and provides more comfort than others on the market.

“I had three different shaped tubes and conducted a cadaver trial with them, testing the smoothness of insertion and whether there was obstruction or tracheal damage upon insertion,” Dicks said.

Controlled testing of her tracheostomy tube showed her prototype performed better than some on the market. Dicks will be pursuing a doctorate in biomedical engineering at Washington University in St. Louis, so she will not try to take her design onto the market. She has presented her project in other venues, however, so perhaps she has sparked an interest in others who might pursue improvements.

Dicks looks back at the hours spent refining her prototype and feels satisfaction knowing demonstrated improvements could be made in the tracheostomy tube.

“It was extremely overwhelming at first,” she said. “You just have to be so dedicated to your project. Even when it’s not working, you just have to keep going. You have to fail so many times but you take those failures and turn them around. It prepares you for all kinds of things in life.”

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