Through the Cords breathing tube prototype

Through the Cords: Helping Patients Catch Their Breath

When it’s a matter of life or death, it’s important to constantly improve the industry. Which is why, when University of Utah faculty member and anesthesiologist Sean Runnels had an idea for a safer upgrade to breathing tubes and the process of inserting them, it wasn’t difficult to recruit students for his team. He reached out to Lassonde’s New Venture Development to grab talented graduate students and form Through the Cords, LLC.

One of the students involved is Benjamin Fogg, a medical and bioengineering student at the U. He elaborated on the current issues associated with inserting breathing tubes, and how Through the Cords has created a solution.

“Breathing tubes are used for surgery, or when someone isn’t able to breathe on their own,” Fogg said. “Our products have to do with intubation; the devices, an introducer and breathing tubes, make it easier to insert the breathing tubes safely, to reduce injuries, deaths and associated costs.”

The unique design is a color-coordinated device that, when inserted, is easily monitored using a medical camera. The tube is inserted until it is visible on the camera, which itself would have been inserted in the mouth. The physician can then maneuver the tube to assure it is neither going too deep nor too shallow. You can observe the process here on this device demonstration.

“One main feature is our device’s ability to gauge depth,” Fogg said. “If you insert the tube too deep, you risk puncturing a lung or only ventilating one lung. If it’s too shallow, the patient doesn’t get the oxygen they need.”

They also have a steerable introduced that helps providers easily guide the breathing tube where it needs to go. To demonstrate this aspect, the team brings a mannequin to each of their product displays so observers can experience the intuitive nature of their innovation.

Feedback has been positive from paramedics, fire departments, anesthesiologists and emergency physicians, most of whom were surprised something like this didn’t already exist. To bring it to market, Runnels and the students have entered and been successful at Bench-2-Bedside, where they won $10,000, and the Utah Entrepreneur Challenge, where they won the grand prize of $40,000. These funds are going toward further development of their devices and FDA approval.

The team is made up of Reynolds, Fogg and two additional graduate students, MBA student Mackenzie Hales and Samer Merchant, a Ph.D. student in bioengineering. In research for their product, they found that each year there are 400,000 intubations that require three or more attempts to get into the windpipe. Complication rates rise with each intubation attempt, so Through the Cords is devoted to decreasing the number of attempts to just one, and having that attempt be a success.

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