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MIT students' Soldier Design win is the start of something useful

August 26, 2014

By Joyce P. Brayboy, U.S. Army Research Laboratory

The first-place team in the 11th Annual Soldier Design Competition (SDC) put on by the Institute for Soldier Nanotechnologies (ISN) at MIT was also a finalist in the prestigious MIT $100K Competition in 2014. Their success in these events is only the beginning of their journey.

"Now we have to figure out how to mass produce the THOR tourniquet with a high-quality manufacturer," said Anton Hunt, a THOR team member pursuing his Ph.D. at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Hunt and teammates Nickolas Demas, Tyler Hamer, and Zaid Zayyad took on the challenge in a medical-device class in the fall at the MIT, where a hand surgeon introduced the idea of a quick-use tourniquet following his experience at the Boston Marathon tragedy.

"None of us knew each other. We started with a diverse skill set, a vision, and a shared goal," Hunt said. Demas' experience is working with real-world medical device projects. Hunt's expertise is keeping the design simple and elegant. Hamer focuses on design and rapid prototyping. Zayyad's background is both mechanical and biological engineering.

Team THOR looked at the current Army tourniquet design and explored a way to redesign it in a way that would be quicker and easier to apply.

"The goal is the same in all of our eyes, to get the technology out there," Hunt said.

The Traumatic Hemorrhage One-hand Response, or THOR, tourniquet revolves around the concept that in mass-casualty situations, only one hand may be able to provide life-saving care.

The THOR tourniquet is designed to overcome many of the issues with current tourniquet designs. There are no buckles or Velcro straps, whilst THOR clamps shut rapidly through one quick pull action against the affected limb, providing a substantial improvement upon current military-issued tourniquets that are only around 75 percent effective on the battlefield, according to Hunt.

ISN supported the team by connecting them with Army medical experts, including the researcher who designed the tourniquet currently used by the U.S. military.

"We designed wacky, complicated ideas early on and came back to a simple paradigm that was far better than our other designs," Hunt said. "Keeping things simple is everything."

Hunt said what he saw in the competition is that complex ideas get lost in the analysis, while simple ideas are easy to see and understand.

Since the competition, the team has been in communication with the Army Medical Research and Materiel Command, talking through the process of adapting the THOR tourniquet to military-specific requirements.

"As a team, we are real excited to push the tourniquet forward and see what comes," Hunt said. "We'd love to get our device into the field. If we can save one life, it is time well spent."

THOR won the first place Lockheed Martin Prize of $7,000.

The second-place team in the competition developed a rapid-warming system for intravenous fluids. The IV quick-heater is portable, compatible with standard IVs, and easily disposable.

When the team started their market research, they did not see the Soldier Design Competition as an end, but a milestone in the process of developing a solution to a "problem with big impact," said Felicia Hsu, a member of the ResQ Warmer team. "We joined the competition to learn everything we could about the military process."

Hsu, Anisha Gururaj, and Ishwarya Ananthabhotla met as MIT freshmen with the dream of solving a big engineering challenge. David Bian later joined the team.

The rising seniors contacted local physicians to find what challenges existed in the medical field. "We would have sent as many letters as we needed to," Hsu said. "But we got lucky early in the process."

They took a class with Dr. Michael Yaffe, the David H. Koch Professor of Biology and Biological Engineering at MIT and a lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Army Reserves, and ended their search.

Yaffe had a challenge for the team and his experience as a trauma surgeon, military officer, and entrepreneur made him a good team mentor, Hsu said.

Since winning the second place Raytheon Prize of $5,000, the team has continued to develop their heater, incorporating advice from the competition judges.

"In an ideal scenario we would get the quick-heater in the medic bag in the field, or the design into an even better end product.

"But right now we would be happy to just get it field tested," Hsu said.


Last Update / Reviewed: August 26, 2014