Northwestern Students Invent SafeSnips to Prevent Surgical Accidents

July 5, 2012

9:34 am

Imagine shaving your face or legs by holding a yardstick attached to your razor. It’s a recipe for nicks and cuts.

The same goes for laparoscopic or minimally invasive surgery, explains medical student Paul Fehrenbacher. Surgeons insert surgical tools through small incisions and look through a video monitor to make their cuts. But without the sensation of touch – the reason why shaving with a yardstick would be clumsy – they can cut into arteries and cause bleeding that’s more than just annoying.

This is what inspired Fehrenbacher to launch Briteseed, co-founded with Northwestern Law students Muneeb Bokhari and Jonathan Gunn and engineering student Mayank Vijayvergia. Talking with Northwestern faculty and medical industry leaders, they realized just how grave the problem is.

So the team started observing surgeons in the OR and saw accidental cuts occur. From there, they headed to the lab. By taking near-infrared light – a technology already available – and adding new software, they were able to create SafeSnips surgical tools to detect blood vessels (and their size, position, and blood flow) before you make a cut.

Since then, Briteseed went through several prototypes, got a provisional patent, and began planning a pilot with physicians. Fehrenbacher hopes to see SafeSnips in operating rooms around the country within 3 years.

“Although on paper we might look young – and no doubt we have a lot to learn – we have a strong team behind us to help learn it. But more importantly, we love working together,” says Fehrenbacher, who was inspired to start up by his entrepreneur grandfather, who died when he was 10.

SafeSnips won the TechWeek LAUNCH competition and was showcased at our Tech Cocktail TechWeek mixer. If all goes well, Briteseed will be creating other life-saving medical devices in the future.

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Kira M. Newman is a Tech Cocktail writer interested in the harsh reality of entrepreneurship, work-life balance, and psychology. She is the founder of The Year of Happy and has been traveling around the world interviewing entrepreneurs in Asia, Europe, and North America since 2011. Follow her @kiramnewman or contact

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