Doctors have known for a while that suction, or negative pressure, is an effective treatment for open wounds. In addition to quicker healing, there is also the benefit of less frequent bandage changing.

But in the developing world, there are problems with the expense of these systems and the availability of reliable electrical systems.

That's the problem that students in an MIT mechanical engineering class decided to tackle a few years ago. With the help of Dr. Robert Sheridan from Massachusetts General Hospital, the students developed a simple, inexpensive and lightweight version that required no power supply and could be left in place for days. One of those students, Danielle Zurovcik, continued to work on the project and made it the subject of her master's thesis. She has continued to work on it on the side as she pursues her doctorate.

Zurovcik, who had been making plans for field tests of the patent-pending device at a rural clinic in Rwanda this fall, was asked by the non-profit healthcare organization Partners in Health to take part in earthquake relief efforts in Haiti. She took 50 of the current version of the plastic, molded pumps, which cost about $3 each.

The device, a cylinder with accordion-like folds, is squeezed to create the suction, and then left in place, connected to the underside of the wound dressing by a thin plastic tube. At that point, it requires no further attention: “It holds its pressure for as long as there's not an air leak,” Zurovcik explains. For that reason, a suitable dressing that can hold the seal is a crucial element of the system.

While the team didn't have time to conduct long-term evaluations, Zurovcik says, “In the short term, we systematically evaluated the wounds, and were able to verify that negative-pressure therapy was being applied and the healing process was underway.”

The trip to Haiti was led by Dr. Robert Riviello of the Division of Trauma, Burn and Surgical Critical Care at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston. Riviello estimates that between 50 million and 60 million people in low-income countries suffer from acute and chronic wounds, and a large number of them would benefit from negative-pressure wound therapy.

Zurovcik notes that an improved version of the device – one that maintains a more constant pressure and is smaller and easier to conceal – has been developed and is being manufactured now.

Source: David L. Chandler, MIT News Office

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