Students Give Chronic Lymphedema Sufferers a Leg Up With New Medical Device Concept

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During a conference, several dermatologists were echoing the same complaint: The treatment solutions for patients suffering from lymphedema need a major upgrade. 

“We received many complaints regarding the stagnation and lack of innovation concerning products for treating chronic lymphedema,” says biomedical engineering major Thomas Ward.

Lymphedema is an uncurable, chronic swelling condition in which lymph fluid pools in the patient’s limbs. A frustrating condition for many, its common symptoms include recurring infections, skin hardening and restricted range of motion. 

“It’s important to solve a problem that actually exists—not one that you guess exists,” Ward says.

Inspired to provide lymphedema sufferers a better quality of life, Ward, along with fellow biomedical engineering students Samantha Schultz, Ariana Eichler and Daniel Masteller, created Nixus.

Treating lymphedema can be cumbersome. Patients often wear compression clothing, need their extremities wrapped in bandages or have to use a burdensome medical device. Because of this, only 40% of the 10 million Americans who suffer from lymphedema actually seek the treatment they need.

One of the ways physicians treat chronic lymphedema is with pneumatic compression, which, essentially, uses the same concept as a blood pressure machine. It entails intermittently inflating a bulky, uncomfortable sleeve attached to a noisy pump to diffuse lymph fluid away from extremities.

Named after the Latin word for pressure, Nixus is the solution that the team believes will overcome the deficiencies of currently available treatments.

The novel advanced materials used in the Nixus system are lightweight, can be formed into a variety of formfactors and are programmable. Patients or their healthcare providers can program the device to deliver enhanced custom compression therapy without the large, stiff airbag and pump systems currently on the market.

The team took this novel idea one step further to improve patients’ lives.

The most valued benefit for patients is not having to mess with all the straps, buttons, zippers and strings required to start the treatment. Simply Velcro it on, and you’re good to go.

“Our device allows patients to remain mobile within their own homes rather than confined to the couch for 30 minutes to an hour three times a day,” Ward says. “The mobility of the device also allows patients to take it to work.”

Also, it doesn’t stink.

“Traditional pumps directly interface with the skin and tend to smell over time. Our device has an easily replaceable and machine-washable sock that contacts the skin directly, rather than the pressure bands themselves,” he says.

While the primary focus of the tech was to treat lymphedema, the device could also treat chronic venous insufficiency and varicose veins and could even improve leg circulation for airline pilots and passengers after long periods of sitting during travel or in hospital settings where devices to prevent deep vein thrombosis are used during surgery and long periods of bed rest.

“From its conception, Nixus was a patient-centered device. It was engineered around real-world demands gathered from real patients and physicians.” Ward says. “Because our device is more compact and comfortable, patients will actually use it.”  

Not only did the team take home the Best in Show for Biomedical Engineering Award it also won the Northrop Grumman Award for Engineering and Entrepreneurship at the 2019 Northrop Grumman Student Design & Research Showcase.

Nixus continued to shine during the 2nd Annual Florida-Wide Engineering Senior Design Invitational, where the team won the People’s Choice Ward.

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