Focus on Research
Penn State Intercom......April 18, 2002

Software helps design
surgical mini-tools

By Barbara Hale RESEARCH_Frecker1
Public Information

University engineers have developed new design software and are using it, in cooperation with surgeons from the College of Medicine, to develop new multi-task surgical tools that look like tiny jaws but will be able to bend around obstructions.

Mary Frecker, assistant professor of mechanical engineering and software team leader, said, "The new software doesn't replace a designer's intuition and experience but suggests a topology or layout based on the designer's specifications and the physical size constraints for the objective. Our software was specifically developed to aid in designing instruments that do more than one thing. Although some topology optimization software is used in industry, we're not aware of any, besides ours, for designing multi-task instruments."

Working with Randy S. Haluck, director of surgical simulation and minimally invasive surgery (MIS), and others at Hershey Medical Center, the team has used the software to develop a design for a single MIS instrument that can grasp, cut, pivot and bend around obstructions. In minimally invasive surgery, which also is known as laparoscopy or endoscopy, a video camera and long slender surgical tools are inserted through small incisions or ports in the body. The smaller incisions cause less trauma and decrease postoperative pain, recovery time and mortality. However, current MIS surgical tools give surgeons limited tactile feedback and dexterity. RESEARCH_Frecker5

Haluck explained that, since most existing MIS tools are single- function instruments, the surgeon must constantly withdraw and re-insert new tools. Continually switching instruments can lengthen time in operation and compromise safety. To find common patterns of instrument exchange, the University team studied videotapes of 29 surgical procedures and identified sequences in which multifunctionality could improve efficiency. For example, the study showed that exchanges between the scissors and graspers occur frequently, particularly in gall bladder removal operations, one of the most frequently performed MIS procedures. So, both grasping and cutting were incorporated into the design for the team's new instruments.

One version of the multi-functional tool, small enough to be inserted into a 5 mm incision, already is in prototype. Haluck says that he expects to begin testing it in a laparoscopic trainer box very soon and to conduct animal tests within six months. The tool consists of tiny stainless steel jaws that can function as miniature scissors, with blades the size of rice grains, at the end of a long insertion rod. The jaws can also function as graspers when the surgeon flips a switch on the instrument handle. Using other switches on the handle, the surgeon can rotate the blades to acute right or left angles to get around obstructions. In a compliant version, still on the drawing board, the surgeon even will be able to make the blades bend to improve maneuvering.

Haluck added, "This multifunctional approach eventually may be used in cardiac therapy or in colonoscopy, for example, where the surgeon may have to snake an instrument a full meter into the colon in some situations -- and snake it out again every time an instrument has to be exchanged. Having a multifunctional tool could reduce these time-consuming instrument exchanges."

The new software has been copyrighted and the University has applied for provisional patents for both the compliant and non-compliant versions of the new MIS tool.

Other members of the team are Ryan P. Dziedzic, master's degree candidate in mechanical engineering; Jeremy Schadler, a master's degree candidate in mechanical engineering; and Alan Snyder, professor of bioengineering in the College of Medicine.

Barbara Hale can be reached at .

'Metadata' used
to organize
digital resources

Digital technology has taken learning resources from the static confines of the old overhead projector to easily accessible, interactive experiences that include sound and motion. But despite the dramatic evolution in the quality of learning resources, there has been little progress towards a system of classification that allow educators to efficiently identify, locate and reuse these materials.

Now, two teams, whose members include researchers and information technology experts from the University, are participating in projects designed to bring order to a burgeoning but chaotic collection of digital educational resources. At the heart of their projects is a common, indispensable ingredient: metadata or data about data.

Several years ago, Instructional Management Systems Global Learning Consortium Inc. (IMS) began working on defining metadata to include in electronic learning materials to help educators more easily identify and share resources.

The Center for Institutional Cooperation, an educational consortium of 12 major research and teaching universities including Penn State and charter member of the IMS specification project, hopes to demonstrate the value of the IMS specifications through the development of a prototype repository for metadata.

The CIC Educational Resource Repository (CICERO) project, whose team includes members from a number of CIC institutions, is led by Mike Halm from the Center for Education Technology Services.

The CICERO repository is designed to allow users to add IMS-specified metadata to materials to clearly identify them, to store the metadata and to provide a way to search for resources using the metadata that will yield highly specific and accurate results.

The Penn State Visual Image User Study (VIUS), a project funded by the Mellon Foundation, shares CICERO's goal of helping users more efficiently identify, store, and locate learning resources. VIUS (pronounced "views") however, focuses specifically on the use, storage and retrieval of digital images.

The VIUS team first will conduct a detailed assessment of the ways Penn State faculty and students use digital images. It then will use the findings of the study to design a system that will hold both the metadata that describe digital images and the images themselves.

To learn more about IMS and its specifications, visit its Web site at