Five Questions With: Dr. Brian Alverson

Updated at 11:50 a.m. on Sept. 11, 2022

Dr. Brian Alverson is co-founder of SmölTap, a Providence-based medical device company that is just beginning to market an innovative device designed to hold infants in an ideal position while undergoing a spinal tap.

Alverson, a pediatrician and former director of pediatric hospital medicine at Hasbro Children’s Hospital, created the device with a team of other doctors after administering countless spinal taps without the aid of such a device.

PBN: When do you expect the SMöLTAP to go on the market, and do you know whether it will be used at Hasbro Children’s Hospital?

ALVERSON: Our team executed an initial pre-launch at the Pediatric Hospital Medical Conference in Orlando, Fla., at the end of July. We are officially launching at the American Academy of Pediatrics Conference in October. We expect the product to ship to hospitals mid-November and hope that Hasbro will be one of those early adopters.

- Advertisement -

PBN: How does performing a traditional infant spinal tap differ from doing it with the SMöLTAP?

ALVERSON: Typically, we do a spinal tap with the infant on their side, being held in a painful “crunch” position and with the help of another provider. With SMöLTAP, we have the baby in a much more comfortable position, with the ability to breathe freely throughout the procedure, and an enhanced ability to provide pain medication by mouth.

Because the baby is able to be in a sitting position, the spinal canal is a bit wider and the tap is easier to get, which can facilitate a less-painful procedure and allow it to be done in one shot, rather than with multiple attempts.

PBN: Are there other pediatric procedures that could potentially be made easier with either the original device or by adjustments to its design?

ALVERSON: Beyond testing spinal fluid for meningitis, there could be applications for spinal blocks during surgeries, cancer treatment and neurology, but we have not fully explored those opportunities.

PBN: What sort of coordination had to happen in order to create a SMöLTAP prototype and complete all the requirements to get it market-ready?

ALVERSON: To start off, we had to try to see if we could develop a prototype that held a baby in a comfortable position. Long before trying to actually perform the spinal taps, we placed babies in the device with the consent of kind parent(s).

Soon we had a really comfortable device that babies actually tended to fall asleep in, which would hold the baby in a good position for the procedure. Then, we had to try it on happy babies, angry babies, big babies and small babies to make sure it would fit all kinds of patients. Finally, we landed with a device that works great and is most comfortable for the infant. We worked with NEMIC [New England Medical Innovation Center], plus a world-class industrial designer, Dan Nelsen, to bring our idea to life.

PBN: What feedback have you received about the device, particularly from other doctors?

ALVERSON: At Pediatric Hospital Medicine’s annual conference, we had over 150 doctors stop by our booth. Universally, doctors agreed that the innovation was wonderfully designed, needed (as the existing standard of care is very stressful with a high failure rate), and are working on bringing SMöLTAP into their hospitals.

Nurses are also thrilled by the product since they are typically the “holders” of the babies during the procedure. Holding a baby during a spinal tap is very stressful; you have to keep the baby still, which is quite difficult, and make certain the baby’s shoulder and hips are square to the spine. SMöLTAP allows the medical professional to focus on the baby’s well-being versus primarily focusing on holding the baby in a curled position on their side.

(UPDATES the second paragraph to reflect that Dr. Brian Alverson is a former director of pediatric medicine at Hasbro Children’s Hospital. He is no longer affiliated with the hospital.)

Elizabeth Graham is a PBN contributing writer.