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Minnesota startup focuses on safety in the operating room

Patient safety is a primary focus of any conversation about health care.

A Minnesota company, however, is aiming to focus on safety in the operating room as it relates to doctors and nurses.

Nascent Surgical, a startup formed in 2010, has developed a device to reduce the amount of surgical smoke or surgical plume created in the operating room during open surgery that emanates from the destruction of cells and tissue when electrosurgical energy is used.

 “The problem has always been we never had an effective method of smoke capture,” said Leonard Schultz, the founder of the company. “We just learned to deal with it. It’s the coal mine philosophy. I have to make a living, so I have to breathe in the coal dust.”

Schultz, a former general surgeon, created the Squair, which he believes will dramatically reduce the surgical plume or smoke that doctors and nurses are exposed to in the operating when using any kind of energy during open surgery, such as for coagulation or cauterizing. Over time, exposure to the smoke has been known to cause health problems for doctors and nurses constantly exposed to that environment.

Schultz believes that the current solutions to tackling smoke in the operating room are inadequate and cumbersome. They either impede the line of vision of the surgeon leading to bigger incisions, or require a surgical technician to track the smoke as it is produced and try to suction it in. Most don’t have big enough tubing to capture the smoke and some are bulky to hold.

That is where Nascent’s Squair comes in. It is placed on the skin of the patient undergoing the surgery. The elliptical space in the middle allows the incision area to be visible at all times. The 1.25-inch tubing is large enough to capture the smoke and is attached to additional tubes that can be then connected to a smoke evacuator inside the operating room. No hands are required to hold the device because it is placed on the patient’s body, Schultz said.

The new Squair is an improvement on a product whose development Schultz abandoned to focus instead a laparoscopic smoke filter product called SeeClear that was sold to Cooper Surgical in 2010.

The second generation of Squair that Nascent has developed is flexible and adherent, Schultz said.

Squair, which is 510(k) exempt, is now being marketed by 77 independent reps in the United States and Canada. They are handing out free samples to hospitals who can give it to nurses and surgeons to test. Schultz expects that after some initial hesitation, doctors and nurses will wholeheartedly endorse the product.

“Surgeons and nurses are really very rigid people,” he said. “When we figure out a protocol that works, we want to make sure that nobody interferes with that protocol.”

But testing it will show that the Squair is almost imperceptible lying on the patient’s skin covered up by towels and surgical drapes, Schultz said. He hopes orders will start to pick up in the fourth quarter.

So far he has raised $625,000 from angel investors. He has also sunk up to $950,000 of his own money.

“Don’t tell my wife,” Schultz said.

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