Taking the weight off clinicians’ backs 

“Gowns” or “aprons” worn by clinicians to protect them from radiation in a cath lab or OR setting are heavy, cumbersome and restrictive. What if that burden, especially including protection responsibility, could be born elsewhere?

Aprons of Shield set out to design a device that achieves full-body shielding from radiation for clinicians while still giving them the ability to use their hands without being weighed down by aprons or increasing exposure. Georgia Tech biomedical engineering students Emily Fisher, Sam Youngblood, Nya Dawson, and Emily Yates comprise the Aprons of Shield team. The project was part of the 2019 Georgia Tech Capstone Program. The program fielded more than twenty projects from the School of Biomedical Engineering, six of which tested their prototypes at the GCMI facilities. 

“Current lead aprons are a ‘pain in the back,’ Youngblood said. “We are trying to find a way to take the weight off of them. We’ve made a table-mounted rail system to divert the weight from the person who’s using the device into the table.” 

While the team ended up choosing radiation as their focus due to their desire to be in the OR and one member’s radiation experience from an internship, they have discovered that the issue can be much more serious than they previously believed. 

“Current lead aprons can result in chronic back pain for people who work in cath labs, operating rooms or are exposed to radiation frequently,” Youngblood continued. “There have been people that have quit their jobs because of the pain traditional aprons cause.” 

Testing the safety of their device in a real OR 

Since the device is specifically meant to be used in clinical settings like cath labs or ORs, GCMI’s provision of facility access to an actual operating room in our preclinical facility was of high value to the team and its advancement goals. These are the same facilities in which our industry, clinician and engineering innovation customers test their novel devices. They are also the same facilities in which thousands of clinicians and allied health professionals receive bioskills training for new devices that have recently entered patient care.

“We took this opportunity to verify the safety of our device testing the different strengths of current lead aprons versus the lead and structure we are attempting to use,” Yates explained. “The whole point of our project is to protect the clinician. If we don’t have any data to back that up, there’s no way to move forward.” 

Dawson added, “We wouldn’t have been able to validate our device and the material we used if we didn’t have this in-lab experience testing the radiation dosage compared to the lead sheet versus the lead apron. We thank the GCMI team for the opportunity.”

The Fall 2019 Capstone Design Expo took place on Monday, December 2. However, the future of this team’s project is to be determined.

“Our advisors have encouraged us to go forward with this project so we already have a patent application submitted in our names,” Yates said. “However, this is the last semester for most of us. We are all starting jobs and going in different directions so it would be hard to continue working on this project after graduating.”