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NECTO device attached to a surgical guidewire
November 28, 2023

Students’ invention aims to clip crucial minutes off endovascular surgeries

Written By: Tom Ziemer


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The device that netted a foursome of University of Wisconsin-Madison biomedical engineering classmates a 2023 Wisconsin Innovation Award doesn’t look flashy. It’s a small plastic cylinder, just over 1.5 inches in length, with a spring-loaded clip in the middle.

While you might mistake this small tool for a misplaced piece of a kids toy, it has the potential to trim several minutes off endovascular procedures—time that could prove crucial in preserving neurological function when treating strokes or aneurysms.

“The seconds matter in those procedures, and that’s what we’re trying to save,” says William Hayes (BSBME ’23), team lead on the project.

As part of the Department of Biomedical Engineering’s unique undergraduate design curriculum, Hayes, Anna Ankerstjerne (BSBME ’23), Isabelle Gundrum (BSBME ’23) and current senior Jakob Knauss developed their Novel Endovascular Clip-on Torque Operator, or NECTO. In Latin, the word formed by their acronym means to connect or attach.

Their prototype won the department’s 2023 Tong Biomedical Design Award, given annually to the top student design project in the eyes of industry judges, before adding the Wisconsin Innovation Award in the HealthIT category in October. The group is currently pursuing a patent for its design with the help of the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation.

Surgeons use torque devices to maneuver long, extremely thin guidewires during minimally invasive endovascular procedures to address problems ranging from plaque buildup in an artery to a blood clot that’s causing a stroke. To treat those conditions, vascular surgeons thread catheters over the guidewire, which leads to the problem area.

“Current torque devices need to be loaded from the distal end of the guidewire. Therefore, the surgeon will need a technician to help them load it. Then they tighten it at the desired location along the wire,” says Knauss, a Sun Prairie, Wisconsin, native who’s graduating in December 2023. “Whereas our device is just a clip-on mechanism, so you can just clip it on to any point along the guidewire.”

That’s especially useful when surgeons need to change catheters or place another therapeutic device, such as a stent.

“That’s where our device shines, especially in really time-critical procedures, like hemorrhages or stroke or aneurysm repair. The surgeon can just clip it on and get the catheter up to where you want it and then clip it off, deliver the catheter, deliver the therapy and clip it on if you need it again,” says Hayes, an Eau Claire, Wisconsin, native who’s planning to attend medical school. “It’s just right there for you, rather than having to have another person 6 feet away fiddling with the end.”

The students worked on their prototype over two semesters, churning through roughly 80 computer-aided design iterations and considering factors like cost and manufacturability. Their project advisor, alumnus David Piotrowski (BSBME ’17, MSBME ’18), was especially helpful, given his role as a senior research and development engineer for Medical Murray, a medical device maker based in the Chicago area.

Although Hayes and Ankerstjerne are pursuing medical school, Knauss is finishing up his degree and Gundrum is working at Medtronic in the Chicago area, the four still meet every other week to move the project forward. They’re hoping they’ll be able to license the device or their intellectual property to an established medical manufacturer.

“We were fortunate enough,” Knauss says, “to have everybody on the same page and wanting to get a real product out of this.”

Jakob Knauss, Anna Ankerstjerne, William Hayes and Isabelle Gundrum
From left: Jakob Knauss, Anna Ankerstjerne, William Hayes and Isabelle Gundrum