Endotracheal tubes can be tricky to introduce both in emergencies and even by anesthesiologists during routine surgeries. Bougies are typically used to guide the tubes, physicians bending them into a shape that follows the natural curvature of patients’ unique upper airway anatomies. This is an imprecise task that can eat up a lot of time while the patient is apneic. Now a team from Nottingham Trent University in England is working on a steerable introducer that will help to make sure the endotracheal tube is placed swiftly.
The device is built around a Flexinol (nitinol) tip, a memory alloy that can quickly snap between different shapes when heat is applied. There are two Flexinol wires within the bougie with wires leading up to them. When a current is applied to one of them, the entire instrument flexes in its direction nearly immediately. This is done using a simple external controller and one person is able to guide the bougie down the windpipe. Considering that a substantial percentage of patients have tortuous airway passages due to disease, obesity, or other “natural” causes, the new device, once commercialized, should help prevent unnecessary brain damage or even deaths arising from difficult placement of endotracheal tubes.