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Innovative Yale Surgical Device Used for the First Time at Yale New Haven Hospital

Kurt Roberts

By Brita Belli

In 2007, Dave Lewin, senior associate director of licensing for the Office of Cooperative Research (OCR) was just coming around after having had his appendix removed at Yale New Haven Hospital when he was approached by his surgeon. Apparently, the surgeon had been encouraged by the anesthesiologist, Dr. Kirk Shelley, who is himself a serial inventor, to talk to Lewin about his invention. Standing at Lewin’s bedside, Kurt Roberts, associate professor of surgery (gastrointestinal) at Yale School of Medicine, excitedly described his invention for a new surgical device which could help minimize incisions—and the related pain—in procedures like appendectomies, gall bladder, and many other laparoscopic surgeries.

Later, Roberts would come to OCR's office with a "napkin" drawing depicting the handheld laparoscopic retractor with a pulley system that he was convinced would offer surgeons an easier means of manipulating tissue and controlling the angle of retraction all with fewer and smaller incisions. "Big incisions hurt," Roberts says. "The less incisions there are, the less pain and the faster the recovery—and the better for cosmetic effect." He compares operation of the device to a puppeteer controlling a marionette.

OCR worked with Roberts to apply for a patent for his device, which helped him to form the startup—NovaTract—and assisted in bringing on CEO Eleanor L. Tandler, the former director of venture development at UConn R&D Corporation, to cofound NovaTract with Roberts and Yale. Six years after Roberts first brought his drawing to OCR’s office, the company has raised over $4 million in venture funding from Connecticut Innovations and other venture backers and has a device ready to go to market. A device, it should be noted, that was recognized as one of the 2013 Innovations of the Year by the Society of Laparoendoscopic Surgeons.

On Thursday, Sept. 26, the NovaTract retraction retention device was used for the first time in several gall bladder surgeries performed by Roberts at Yale New Haven Hospital. As expected, it allowed him to reduce the incisions to two rather than the traditional four incisions. He and his team are now using the device routinely and NovaTract is providing it to other surgeons in a limited market release. A full market release is planned for next year.

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