State grant allows GVSU, Corewell Health East to continue developing medical device to assist during labor

Grand Valley and Corewell Health East received state funding to continue developing a medical device that will empower patients who are in active labor and protect caregivers from labor-support injuries.

The labor assist device was among six projects that recently received grants from the Michigan Economic Development Corporation, through the Michigan Translational Research and Commercialization (MTRAC) Life Sciences Innovation Hub at the University of Michigan.

John Farris, professor of engineering, said nearly 20 students have contributed to the design and prototype of the device since the project came to them in 2017. It was brought to Farris' attention in the same manner as past medical devices his students have played roles in developing.

"It starts with a problem people care about, one that can be helped with an engineering solution," Farris said.

portraits of, at left, John Farris seated in shirt and tie, and Linda Chamberlain standing with arms crossed against a black background
Pictured are, at left, John Farris, professor of engineering, and Linda Chamberlain, director of the GVSU Technology Commercialization Office. Farris and engineering students have developed a labor assist device; the project received a state grant.

Dr. Marlene Seltzer is an obstetrician-gynecologist at Corewell Health East (formerly Beaumont Hospital). Seltzer said the need for such a device was identified when a patient was having difficulty lifting her legs to push during delivery and the nurse was limited in her ability to help because of an injury.

"I kept thinking about a way to make it easier for patients that would not put the nurse at risk of injury," Seltzer said. "Once home, I described the idea to my husband, who is also an OB/GYN, who then drew the original picture on a napkin."

The labor assist device will empower mothers by making it easier for them to lift and lower their legs during active labor. Farris said the device will lower the risk for hospital staff or caregivers who normally would have to manually assist with leg positioning.

The $280,000 MTRAC grant allows Farris and Seltzer to contract with Tekna, a Kalamazoo product development company, to help develop the next prototype. Next steps include product evaluation studies at hospitals in Kalamazoo, Grand Rapids and metro Detroit. 

Linda Chamberlain, director of GVSU Technology Commercialization Office, said Corewell Health has partnered with Grand Valley on 10 other medical devices. Farris and his students have also developed devices for Trinity Health and Sparrow Health.

"John has done a great job of seeking out opportunities for new products that result in licenses," Chamberlain said. "His focus on project-based learning for students is developing engineering talent for the medical device industry. When these ideas are licensed and commercialized, the work is ultimately creating jobs, which is key to Michigan's medical device economy" 

The MTRAC Life Sciences Innovation Hub aims to fund high-tech projects addressing significant unmet needs in health care.


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