Office of the Vice President for Global Communications

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Research

Students develop low-cost surgical lamp

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Engineering students have developed a low-cost, battery-powered surgical lamp to be used in developing nations where electricity isn't reliable.

Earlier this month the members of Michigan Health Engineered for All Lives, or M-HEAL, sent their prototype lamp to Uganda where it will undergo testing.

Elliot Hwang, an undergraduate biomedical engineering student, shows off the working prototype of the surgical lamp he helped design and build. The battery-operated, low-cost surgical lamp is made for developing nations where electricity is unreliable. (Photo by Stephen DeWitt)

"The power grid is very unreliable in developing countries," says Stephen DeWitt, co-founder of M-HEAL and leader of the team that built the lamp. "If you're in the middle of surgery and the lights go out, that's very bad news for the patient. We don't think that's acceptable. We're building a low-cost alternative that has a lot of the performance of a full-scale, Western surgical lamp." DeWitt is a graduating senior in engineering physics in the College of Engineering.

The lamp is made of a pie pan, a bike brake, a joint from a car rearview mirror and light-emitting-diode flashlight components. It is affixed to an adjustable pole on wheels. DeWitt estimates it would cost around $300 to build, now that the team has developed the blueprints. That's more than $500 less than the closest competition.

"The lamp is really exciting because it's M-HEAL's first design project," says Julia Samorezov, a graduating senior in biomedical engineering and co-founder of M-HEAL. "These guys did a great job. They focused on what resources are available in the developing world and how to use local materials in a sustainable way."

M-HEAL's primary mission is to design, build and repair medical equipment to improve access to health-care technology in the developing world. The group regularly travels to the Detroit-based nonprofit World Medical Relief to repair used medical equipment and distribute it to places across the globe where it is needed.

M-HEAL's organizers plan to expand into more design projects. They also intend to improve the lamp with feedback they receive on the prototype. Eventually, they hope to produce an instruction manual so the lamps could be built where they're needed with local materials.

Other members of the surgical lamp team are undergraduate biomedical engineering students Elliot Hwang, Michael Weist, Michael Harrison and Phil Guan; biomedical engineering graduate students Carl McGill, Seth Koehler and Chris Voge; and applied physics graduate student Abigail Mechtenberg. The team's faculty adviser is Aileen Huang-Saad, a lecturer and assistant research scientist in the Department of Biomedical Engineering.