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railroad tracks, Belson says. Suturing with needle and thread is slower, though the scar may be less noticeable if the surgeon is skillful.
The ZipLine technique is designed to combine the speed of staples with the improved appearance of sewn closures. The method is easy to master, so the final closure of the skin can be turned over to a less experienced member of the operating team, says Eric Storne, ZipLine’s vice president of marketing.
Storne says the company worked closely with surgeons and nurses to refine the design of the device. As the recovering patient moves, structural elements in the ZipLine closures redistribute strain from any one point of the healing incision to the overall surface of the device. Staffers at the 13-employee company have been helping road test the stick-on closures, Storne says.
“We’re wearing these everywhere on our bodies—bellies, knees, and chest,” Storne says.
In the development stage, ZipLine closures were used in hundreds of surgeries, Belson says. The commercial launch of the product began in June, with an initial focus on plastic surgery, cardiology, and orthopedics. The closures come in 15- centimeter and 8-centimeter lengths, but they can be combined to cover longer incisions like those created in operations along the length of the spine for scoliosis, Storne says. The strips can also be snipped into smaller lengths to cover shorter stretches of skin. A single 8-centimeter ZipLine device costs $60.
Aside from a possible improvement in the cosmetic appearance of scars, ZipLine’s sales pitch is that the closures save money. In addition to reducing operating room time, the elimination of skin punctures from staples or needles may protect both patients and surgical staff from infections. A surgical site infection typically costs as much as $25,000 to treat, and a needle stick suffered by a staffer can cost about $600, the company estimates.
The ZipLine closures can be worn for two weeks, and can withstand normal patient activities, such as sweating and showering. Patients may be able to remove the closure device themselves, rather than coming back to the hospital, as they would to have stitches or staples removed after an incision heals, Storne says. These visits to have sutures or staples removed are not reimbursed by Medicare and other health insurance plans, he says.
ZipLine is typical of the ideas Belson is most interested in developing these days, based on lessons he learned through his first company, Neoguide. The ZipLine device is much simpler than the Neoguide platform. That technology included many elements to make colonoscopy less painful, or make other surgeries less invasive—a camera-equipped, snakelike cable, armed with sensors to transmit its path through the body to a computer.
Belson’s other companies include Menlo Park, CA-based Thermocure, which is developing a device to quickly cool the bodies of stroke and heart attack patients to prevent a cascade of damage in the heart or brain; and Naples, FL-based Vascular Pathways, which aims to improve the success rate of inserting IV catheters with a device called the AccuCath Intravenous Catheter System.
Meanwhile, Belson continues to develop ideas, and now has about 300 patents issued or pending. He’s become part of a noted Bay area lineage of medtech inventors. After his arrival at Stanford, he met Paul Yock, a distinguished medical device inventor and founder of Stanford’s Program in Biodesign for budding entrepreneurs in biomedical engineering. Yock introduced Belson to other innovators who were instrumental in forming Neoguide. Yock also became Belson’s mentor.
“His mentor was Thomas Fogarty,” Belson says, referring to the renowned cardiovascular surgeon who in 1960 invented the balloon catheter that transformed clot removal surgery. “I’m like the grandkid of Fogarty.”
But Belson says his thought process is very different from the methodical steps taught at the Biodesign Program, where participants carefully outline a problem, propose a number of solutions, and then choose the best invention. Belson was one of the earliest participants in the program and “Great companies come out of it,” he says.
But “The way my brain works is a little weird,” he says. Often, solutions emerge before he fully understands the problem.
Belson never had the chance to pursue the hybrid helicopter/airplane whose design he showed his father when he was nine years old. About ten years later, Belson recalls, he saw a similar drawing in a popular science magazine. NASA was developing a plane just like the one he’d envisioned.
These days, he’s the father reviewing proposals from a new set of small inventors.