The UTDesign team adapted the cup holder on a portable ultrasound machine so hospital workers can lock the ultrasound probe into place, allowing them to install a sterile probe cover without assistance. The mechanism to hold the probe is made of a flexible material, like a bendable sink nozzle, so the doctor can move the probe in any direction and install the cover without coming in contact with unsterile surfaces.

Emergency medicine physician Dr. Carlos “Coco” Trigo wanted to find a way to apply a sterile cover to an ultrasound probe to perform ultrasound-guided procedures without having to find an extra pair of hands in the busy emergency room.

So Trigo, an assistant instructor and a fellow in simulation-based education at UT Southwestern Medical Center, sponsored a team of six engineering students in The University of Texas at Dallas’ UTDesign Senior Capstone Program to turn the two-person job into a solo task.

Trigo and others in the ER use the students’ innovation on a daily basis, freeing medical workers and protecting patients from exposure to additional hospital staff. Trigo recently filed a patent on the design.

“During the COVID-19 pandemic, this device means that fewer medical personnel are needed inside a patient’s room to perform these procedures, which equals fewer unnecessary exposures,” Trigo said. He was so impressed with the students’ work, he sponsored a related project during the current academic year.

The UTDesign team adapted the cup holder on a portable ultrasound machine so hospital workers can lock the ultrasound probe into place, allowing them to install the required sterile probe cover for ultrasound-guided procedures without assistance. The mechanism to hold the probe is made of a flexible material, like a bendable sink nozzle, so the doctor can orient the probe in any direction and install the sterile probe cover without the risk of coming in contact with unsterile surfaces. Trigo created a video to teach co-workers how to use the device.

From left: Madeline Powers BS’20, Eric Busch BS’20, Carlos Ramirez BS’20, Minh Nguyen BS’20,  Shahrzad Shahabi BS’20 and Rebecca Finney BS’20, shown before the COVID-19 pandemic, designed the device.

“You can essentially use one hand to install the probe cover in a sterile manner,” said Eric Busch BS’20, who led the team that worked on the senior project. He is now a student in UT Dallas’ electrical engineering master’s program. Teammates included Rebecca Finney BS’20, a master’s student in systems engineering and management; Minh Nguyen BS’20; Madeline Powers BS’20; Carlos Ramirez BS’20; and Shahrzad Shahabi BS’20, a master’s student in mechanical engineering.

The UTDesign capstone course gives Erik Jonsson School of Engineering and Computer Science seniors the opportunity to work with faculty and corporate mentors on real-world problems for sponsors. Busch said he and his teammates, who began the project in fall 2019, were on track until COVID-19 hit and the campus reduced operations and moved to online classes.

“Out of nowhere, everything stopped,” Busch said.

At the same time, emergency personnel needed the device more than ever to reduce the need for hospital workers to come into close contact with patients, he said.

“Even if they had an extra person, they didn’t want to unnecessarily expose people,” Busch said.

The team created a temporary solution for Trigo while working on a more permanent design. The students ordered parts online. After they could no longer use the lab on campus due to a closure, one of the teammates printed custom parts on his personal 3D printer at home.

“We kept pushing through,” Busch said. “Doctors come through for us, and we thought we should do it for them.”