Pediatrics pain point may be soothed by design solution

BABY STEPS: Maey Petrie, left, director of programs and business developent at New England Medical Innovation Center, and Robert Cooper, SmölTap CEO, with the product designed to hold infants still while undergoing a spinal tap. It will launch this fall. 
BABY STEPS: Maey Petrie, left, director of programs and business developent at New England Medical Innovation Center, and Robert Cooper, SmölTap CEO, with the product designed to hold infants still while undergoing a spinal tap. It will launch this fall. 

When Dr. Ravi D’Cruz asked his former mentor Dr. Brian Alverson if he could think of any problems in health care that could be solved through design, Alverson answered quickly.

“We need a device to hold babies still,” the pediatrician said.

D’Cruz, who has a background in architecture and design, had been looking for ideas for his design students at the Rhode Island School of Design and Brown University. He did not expect Alverson to have an idea on the spot.

But earlier the same day at Hasbro Children’s Hospital, Alverson had performed a spinal tap on a baby, a procedure that was made much more complicated because the infant couldn’t be held still. That frustration was fresh in Alverson’s mind. It turns out that it was the perfect problem to tackle with design.

- Advertisement -

“I said, ‘Brian, this is actually something that not only can be solved through design, but it could have a very profound impact if we’re able to solve it,’ ” D’Cruz said.

Three years later, Alverson and D’Cruz are about to launch SmölTap, a product designed to hold infants in place as they receive spinal taps in the hopes that the procedure will be easier for the children, the doctors and the parents.

Shaped like a massage chair, SmölTap straps a baby into an upright but comfortable position.

“It’s such a wonderful project because, at its core, it’s helping babies feel better,” D’Cruz said. “It’s helping families go through a very stressful process and have them feel supported and feel like their baby is getting the best care. And I can’t think of a better goal than to help a child not go through pain.”

To get SmölTap Inc. started, Alverson, former director of the Division of Pediatric Hospital Medicine at Hasbro who now works in Delaware, and D’Cruz, now a pediatrician in Seattle but who did his residency at Hasbro, partnered with Providence-based New England Medical Innovation Center, which conducted research, gathered data, built prototypes and tested them on infants.

“When we heard about it for the first time, we were like, ‘How is there not a product for this already?’ ” said Maey Petrie, director of programs and business development at NEMIC. “We just couldn’t believe the product didn’t exist. … It’s really just an overall stressful procedure for the infants, for the people who are doing the spinal tap and then the parents, who in some cases are actually in the room watching the procedure.”

Alverson and D’Cruz have seen their share of spinal taps and know the frustration that accompanies the tricky procedure.

When performing spinal taps, doctors insert a needle into the child’s lower back and remove a sample of cerebrospinal fluid. It’s performed on fever-stricken infants of up to 6 weeks to diagnose more dangerous conditions, such as meningitis.

Currently, the baby must be held on their side in what looks like a “C” shape, which can make the baby uncomfortable and prevents them from breathing correctly. Holding the baby perfectly still is crucial for the doctor to insert the needle at the right spot.

While a relatively easy and painless five-minute procedure – Alverson equates the pain to that of an intravenous injection – spinal taps can get more lengthy and painful if infants are unable to stay still.

“As an attending, I’ve had babies where we tried three, four, five times, all in the same sitting,” D’Cruz said. “And as you move through this process and as you start to get into multiple attempts, it gets harder and harder to get the sample.”

That’s why infant spinal taps have a 25% failure rate. In those cases, hospital stays can be longer and more costly.

With SmölTap, those complications might be avoided.

“What we’re seeing with tests we’ve done is instead of the health care providers focusing attention on holding the baby, the person now is able to pay attention to taking care of the baby,” said SmölTap CEO Robert Cooper, who became involved with the Providence-based startup after hearing Alverson talk about the product during an investor pitch.

The design of SmölTap allows nurses to monitor the baby’s vital signs, administer oxygen and feed the baby sugar water during the procedure, a product that is often used to reduce pain in infants.

They went through eight or nine prototypes before coming up with the final blue-and-white device ready to launch on the market this fall.

NEMIC took charge of the fundraising efforts. The first $100,000 came from Brown University’s Biomedical Innovations to Impact Fund. Later, the team was able to raise an additional $500,000 between funds and investors, including MagpieX, the Charles H. Hood Foundation and the Cherrystone Angel Group in Providence.

“This project was so inherently obvious in its benefits that it was not hard fundraising or getting people on board,” Alverson said. “From the corporate side, the profit was obvious. From the medical side, the need was desperate.”

The company has been working with Megaforce, a manufacturing company in Taiwan, to build the product. SmölTap is expected to launch in October, when about 250 devices are expected to be ready. Each product will cost around $2,500 and has a two-year useful life, Cooper said.

“This device is already a hot commodity,” Alverson said. “It’s not even out yet and doctors from around the country are trying to buy it. It’s going to sell.”

“It [SmölTap] should become standard of care for this process,” D’Cruz said. “There’s no reason that we shouldn’t be having a baby in the holder and there’s no reason that we shouldn’t be doing the process the way that we are currently doing it.”

No posts to display