Can simplicity and elegance be detrimental in surgical instruments? What is our platform technology’s potential? Why are we the first to craft such an elegant system?
Few people are better qualified to answer these questions than Dr. Gabriëlle Tuijthof. Gabriëlle has an incredible eye for disruptive technology that provides real value to surgeons. She is a Dutch researcher in minimally invasive surgical instruments with an exemplary track record in investigating new technologies to improve healthcare.
Surge-on Medical: What is your involvement with surgical instruments?
Gabriëlle: Well, this will be a long answer. I’ve been involved in many research projects and initiatives in innovative surgical instruments in the Netherlands. I’ve been doing this since my Ph.D. at the Delft University of Technology and at the Amsterdam University Medical Center. My Ph.D. focussed on the development of new surgical techniques in the field of minimally invasive surgery and interventions in orthopaedics (arthroscopy).
I subsequently expanded my activities as a researching designer (or designing researcher) in several subsidized projects. I focus on bridging the gap between fundamental science and clinical application by joining engineering disciplines. Between 2006 and 2012, I was an assistant professor at the Delft University of Technology where I helped improve surgical performance with new instruments. I was then promoted to associate professor and created my own Joint Engineering research group. I have remained affiliated to the AUMC, and later more specifically to the Academic Center for Evidence-based Sports Medicine (ACES), since 2003. I’ve written over 75 peer-reviewed publications, and I’m the co-holder of four patents, including two related to the Steerable Punch. I’m currently a programme manager at IDEE Maastricht University.
Surge-on Medical: In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges with current surgical instruments?
Gabriëlle: Surgical instruments that have been around since the dawn of surgery, such as the pincette, knife, clamps, and scissors, are elegant and simple and are used in the majority of operations. Affordability sometimes hampers the introduction of more complex instruments for dedicated or selective surgeries. In contrast, new surgical instruments have been introduced which have a high level of complexity both during use and in terms of fabrication, assembly, and cleaning. If a larger investment budget were available, these more complex instruments could be optimized, benefitting everyone.
The Steerable Punch
Surge-on Medical: What is your involvement in Surge-on Medical’s steerable technology? Have you worked with any specific instruments?
Gabriëlle: I was first to think of replacing the existing pre-bent punches with one steerable punch. This was one of my first ideas when I started my Ph.D. in the late nineties. Since then, I have worked on several scientific papers that determined quantitative requirements for such a punch, the preference for handle design, a simulated surgical testing environment, and several concepts to achieve a working prototype of the Steerable Punch. Unfortunately, these concepts didn’t lead to a sufficiently stiff and cleanable instrument. It was only once I started working with my former TU Delft colleague Tim Horeman that these issues were finally solved, resulting in the Steerable Punch and its strong patents.
Surge-on Medical: What is your opinion of Surge-on Medical’s steerable technology?
Gabriëlle: It is a great concept which can be applied to many of today’s minimally invasive instruments. It is truly a platform technology.
Surge-on Medical: In your opinion, what makes this steerable technology so unique? Why has no one already created it?
Gabriëlle: The combination of steerability while maintaining a stiff solid construction to transform cutting forces is unique. As with many inventions, it only appears obvious in hindsight. So, Tim’s years of working with cars and actually seeing many transmissions contributed to this out-of-the-box-solution.
Surge-on Medical: Do you see market potential for their steerable platform technology?
Gabriëlle: Yes. As I indicated it is a platform technology, suitable for many types of minimally invasive instruments. The technology has clear commercial value, especially as the main features are patented.
Surge-on Medical: Is there anything else you’d like to share with the public about Surge-on Medical or their products?
Gabriëlle: A big facilitator for Surge-on Medical’s progress is the outstanding work by its multinational team. The trust and willingness to work together make this a great team effort. I hope my ultimate wish that one of the designs is used in surgery is soon fulfilled.
It is through valuable collaboration and joint work with researchers like Gabriëlle that Surge-on Medical has been able to grow its portfolio of innovations towards the instruments that surgeons and the market need.
(Updated on June 9th, 2020. Links to the funding page removed as funding successfully completed).