Bioengineers Deliver UTDesign Solutions for Difficult Births

student team presenting to a judge

Members of team Little Cesareans show how they conceived their device, called a Low Pressure Inflatable Finger Tip or LIFT, to aid potentially life-threatening C-sections. The device placed first in the UTDesign Fall 2017 Expo.

As part of a capstone research project, teams of engineering students at The University of Texas at Dallas worked to create potentially lifesaving devices that could assist physicians in delivering babies during cesarean sections.

Impacted fetal head is a serious problem that occurs when a baby’s head gets stuck in the mother’s pelvis during labor, often necessitating delivery via emergency C-section. Currently, there’s no device on the market that mitigates the issue.

So corporate sponsor Safe-C asked students in the UTDesign program to create a safe alternative that must exert no more than 50 pounds of force.

“Being in the early stages of development, Safe-C was looking for innovative assessments and solutions to explore the engineering design challenges for fetal head impaction during cesarean section,” said Dr. Sandeep Kumar Ganji, spokesman at Safe-C, a startup that originated with a group of four doctors and a graduate student at UT Southwestern Medical Center.

From there, a relationship with UTDesign was born.

“Capstone provides a unique opportunity to interact with UTD students, faculty and researchers and allows for a more in-depth technical development and improvement to the initial Safe-C solutions,” Ganji said.

To free the baby, doctors typically reach through the birth canal and use their fingertips to push the baby’s head out from openings in the pelvis. Soon after, the baby is lifted from the abdominal cavity. But that method can be slow and potentially dangerous.

In the summer and fall 2017 semesters, three teams of roughly four seniors from the bioengineering program competed in the UTDesign Expo to meet the challenge: Come up with a device that can safely dislodge the baby’s head faster.


The Fetal Head Push Pro team

From left: Nathaniel Maldonado, Alexa Gilfoyle, Rene Barrera and Elizabeth Bentley of team Stork Industries developed the Fetal Head Push Pro as their capstone project.

All engineering and computer science seniors at UT Dallas are required to complete a team-oriented capstone project, allowing them to engage in the design process and practice their project-management and problem-solving skills. The projects are proposed, sponsored and mentored by companies, and students are divided into teams to work on the assignments. For this project, each device was tested on an Impacted Fetal Head Simulator.

Nathaniel Maldonado, a biomedical engineering senior from San Angelo, Texas, and leader of his team, Stork Industries, designed, built and tested the Fetal Head Push Pro, a hand-held device that gently dislodges the fetus.

“Our device is trigger-operated, so the user can insert it into the birth canal and have it do the work for them. They can control which way the device moves and prevent any unwanted or unnecessary force,” he said.

Maldonado said disimpaction was less than 20 seconds.

“It is very intuitive. It is easy to use and worked very well,” he said. 

A Simple Solution

The Velox Medical team

From left: Nate Bremmer, Pawneez Zamani, John Will, Saul Solis and Hajung Lee created the Baby Pop, a hand-held stick with an oval-shaped pad of soft silicone.

A second team, Velox Medical, named its device the Baby Pop, a hand-held stick with an oval-shaped pad of soft silicone. The pad is pushed into the birth canal and aligned against the baby’s head, distributing even pressure over a wider area. Team leaders said its advantages include simplicity and low cost.

“When there are moving parts, the FDA approval and manufacturing costs go up,” said team member Nate Bremmer, a biomedical engineering senior from Denver, Colorado. “With a device this simple, costs are reduced to less than 5 dollars. That makes it much more attractive.”

Safety is another consideration.

“The fact that there are no moving parts helps with the safety of the device,” said Pawneez Zamani, team leader and a biomedical engineering senior from Dallas. “Even if we had a mechanism to lengthen the rod, it could pinch the mother’s skin.”


The Fetal Head Push Pro team

From left: Michael Bucag, Matthew Galles, Vinay Naik and Vineet Aziz conceived and built the LIFT device, which placed first in the UTDesign Fall 2017 Expo.

In the end, the LIFT device, which stands for Low Pressure Inflatable Finger Tip, conceived and built by team Little Cesareans, won over judges.

After trial and error, the team decided on a device that fits like a glove over two fingers, with a silicone balloon on the end. It is inserted into the birth canal, and pressed against the lower part of the pelvis and against the baby’s head. A doctor inflates the balloon using a pedal. Students said the balloon inflates as much as six times its original size or about the size of an adult head.

“It takes no physical effort from the clinician at all,” said Vineet Aziz, team leader and a biomedical engineering senior from Denton, Texas. “It disimpacts as much as 50 pounds in less than 5 seconds. You just insert it and inflate. Once the baby is dislodged, another clinician can take the baby from the mother. Then the device is simply deflated and removed.”

Other members of the team were: biomedical engineering seniors Vinay Naik, Matthew Galles and Michael Bucag.

“All the judges were impressed with each team’s unique design/solution and high quality of work that went into making the project designs,” Ganji said. “The LIFT was chosen not only for its overall design, but the attention to detail that went in for testing and validating the prototypes.”

Rod Wetterskog, assistant dean of corporate relations for the Erik Jonsson School of Engineering and Computer Science and UTDesign program coordinator, said creating devices with real-world applications is nothing new for the students in the program.

“Students plan, budget, ideate, work in teams and communicate well with all types of people in all types of ways,” he said. “UTDesign gives them a dose of reality: a real project, sponsored by a real company, with real scheduling and budget constrictions. It’s the perfect ‘dress rehearsal’ for the real world.”

And while students said it’s satisfying to know that Safe-C is expected to apply for patents on all the devices, they also said that’s not the best part.

“We all put a lot of work into it,” Aziz said. “And it feels good to come up with a device that potentially can save lives.”

Media Contact: The Office of Media Relations, UT Dallas, (972) 883-2155, [email protected].

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