WPI Students, Professor and UMMC Physician Invent New Forceps

Contact: WPI Media Relations, 508-831-5616

WORCESTER, Mass. Two former Worcester Polytechnic Institute students, a University of Massachusetts Medical Center physician who graduated from the Institute, and a WPI professor recently patented a new forceps they invented to make suturing simpler and more cost-effective.

Delicate surgical manipulation requires stability often involving the use of two instruments," says Dr. Raymond M. Dunn, associate professor of plastic surgery, who designed The Tissue Spreading Forceps along with Marc Gomes Casseres, Richard Doppler and mechanical engineering Professor Allen H. Hoffman. "By allowing the surgeon to stabilize the wound with the forceps with one hand and suturing with the other, more precise manipulation of tissue and needle placement is possible."

The patented forceps have two gripping members (which resemble two pairs of tweezers) that are pivoted at the end and secured to each other by a spring. When the surgeon applies pressure to the spring it causes the grippers to close and hold tissue at two locations. Additional pressure makes the forceps spread apart in relation to each other, thereby spreading the tissue. "More sophisticated and delicate surgical procedures are routinely being developed," says Dunn. "Many of these require the redesign of traditional instrumentation and the development of new ones."

Dunn, who received his bachelor's degree in chemistry from WPI in 1978 and now directs the medical center's Plastic Surgery Research Laboratories, saw a need for an improved forceps and identified prototypes that could be used to make those improvements. Gomes Casseres and Doppler were WPI seniors in 1991 when they began working with Dunn to develop the new device as part of their Major Qualifying Project (MQP), one of three projects all undergraduates at WPI undertake as part of the innovative WPI Plan, a flexible, exciting and academically challenging program introduced in 1971.

Under the Plan, students are provided with unique opportunities for integrating classroom studies with preprofessional academic projects conducted on campus or at companies, agencies and project sites in the U.S. and abroad. Through the MQP, students solve real-life problems in their major field of study. The goals of the MQP include the development of creativity, self-confidence, and the ability to communicate ideas. Hoffman, the MQP advisor, helped the students focus on their task and refine the product. WPI and UMMC funded the cost of securing the patent, which was assigned to both institutions.

"The factors that were considered in the design of the forceps were ease of manipulation, complexity of the closing and spreading mechanism, and cost to manufacture," says Gomes Casseres. "The Tissue-Spreading Forceps will enable the surgeon to concentrate on the complicated techniques involved in surgery, rather than the mechanics of the instrument."

"A key concern in developing the design was incorporating the use of a very flexible curved member to act as a spring," says Hoffman. "Pressing on the curved member causes its ends to spread. In the first prototype, the curved spring was fashioned from a section cut from a plastic soft drink bottle."

Doppler, a Shrewsbury, Mass., resident, and Gomes Cacceres, who lives in Merrimack, N.H., majored in mechanical engineering with biomedical interests and graduated from WPI in 1992. Doppler, earned a master's degree in mechanical engieering at WPI in 1993 and is vice president of operations at Reed & Prince Manufacturing Corp. in Worcester. Gomes Casseres, who earned a master's degree in mechanical engineering at WPI in 1994, is a mechanical engineer at Lockheed Sanders Inc., in Nashua, N.H. Hoffman resides in Sterling, Mass., Dunn is a resident of Shrewsbury.