$3 hand-powered suction device quickly heals wounds

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MIT Grad Student Danielle Zurovcik (above) designed this hand-powered suction device to speed up wound healing. It costs $3 and it works.

Nobody knows precisely why it works, but doctors have known for decades that the healing process for open wounds can be greatly speeded up by applying negative pressure – that is, suction – under a bandage sealed tightly over the affected area. The speculation is that it helps by drawing bacteria and fluid away from the wound, keeping it cleaner.


Earlier this semester, Zurovcik, who had been making plans for field tests of the patent-pending device at a rural clinic in Rwanda this fall, was asked by the nonprofit healthcare organization Partners in Health to take part in earthquake relief efforts in Haiti. She traveled there with a supply of 50 of the current version of the plastic, molded pumps, which cost about $3 each. (The only portable versions on the market today cost $100 a day just to rent, and must have their batteries recharged after about six hours.)

The device, a cylinder with accordion-like folds, is squeezed to create the suction, and then left in place, connected to the underside of the wound dressing by a thin plastic tube. At that point, it requires no further attention: "It holds its pressure for as long as there's not an air leak," Zurovcik explains. For that reason, a suitable dressing that can hold the seal is a crucial element of the system.

$3 hand-powered suction device quickly heals wounds (Thanks, Bob!)


    1. I agree, it looks like someone trying to cash in on a cheap adaptation of the Jackson-Pratt using what looks like a sink plunger and some common plastic tubing from a hardware store.

      1. There’s essentially no chance for profit in this. It’s like an instructable that she did some testing on. The great part about it is that these plungers are readily available in a lot of countries, and if they aren’t there’s already a lot of manufacturers making them.

        I mean yeah at the end of the day all she did was put a plug in the end of a plunger and call it a medical device. But if that cheap macgyverish invention saves some lives, then I think it’s pretty badass.

    2. you’re right & it could have been the inspiration for the new device. i think Zurovcik’s device takes the JP’s low tech functionality to a new level both in both capacity and suckage so that it competes with available electric negative pressure systems. plus it has a very accessible production cost & for the squeemish, you don’t have to look at the drainage sloshing around in it. while a medical device with bio-hazard waste is not recyclable, i wonder if they can be produced with recycled plastics?

    3. Actually the principle has been around for tens of decades, aka centuries.


      Good on her for developing this, this is an excellent example of getting most bang from the buck for research dollars.

      While “hack” has a derogatory connotation in some contexts, I think he just meant “a wonderfully developed invention from simple parts”.

      Wonder if it leaves marks. When I was cupped on my back, I looked like a survivor of tentacle attack for several weeks.

    4. @Antinous

      I thought the same thing, I guess the major difference being $3 versus $300 for a JP kit.

      1. I don’t get why a JP would cost more than $3. It’s just a little piece of plastic. I suppose that sterility adds to the cost, but that’s not even necessary in most cases. There must be 10,000% mark-up between the factory and the hospital bed.

  1. My guess is that suction part isn’t important, it’s the fact the wound is protected so well, and the damaged skin isn’t under all sorts of movement stresses.

    OR … the vacuum causes the underlying blood vessels to widen and have more healing cells in the damaged area.

    Good luck through customs with those.

    1. oh, the suction is important! just like with post-op drains (like as antinous mentioned the jackson-pratt)that suckage pulls fluids, bacteria, puss & seepage of all kinds out of the damaged tissues and away from the wound. with less inflammation and drainage to deal with, the cells can devote their time to healing not housekeeping.

    2. JP drains are the norm, but sometimes wounds are hooked up to wall suction, which is a sort of built-in, medical mini-vacuum cleaner.

  2. I believe the JP provides suction to >internal< wounds--not large, open ones. Friend had foot surgery awhile ago--7" gaping wound. Was given a portable negative pressure wound machine made by KCI for use at home that sucked out all the bad goo, which collected in a very non-recyclable but easily changed-out canister. The unit was costly (several grand, luckily covered by her insurance); a registered visiting nurse replaced the bandage every other day. In short: for gaping, open wounds in the field where hospitals may not have the latest, and where registered nurses aren't aplenty, then Zurovcik's device indeed makes sense.

  3. I agree that I don’t see how this is better than a Jackson-Pratt. I would be interested to know if it is.

  4. This is more analogous to a Wound-Vac than it is to a JP drain. The plunger replaces the high-tech suction pump of the Wound-Vac. The statement that you simply compress the plunger and leave it alone is a bit misleading. Just like you need to periodically empty and re-compress a JP, so you would need to do with this device. Another issue with this device versus the admittedly more expensive Wound-Vac is that it does not maintain a constant pressure, unless re-compressed very frequently and monitored closely. Ideal wound healing (in wounds where vacuum therapy is indicated) occurs when a constant suction of about 125 mmHg is applied for long periods of time, days or weeks, depending on the size of the wound. One possible addition to the device would be an inline pressure gauge, so that the operator knows how much suction is in the system.

    All that aside, this IS a wonderful hack ,and as pointed out in one of the links in the article, it is more effective than traditional wet-to dry dressings, and very useful in situations where expensive vacuum pumps (or in some cases, the electricity to run them) are not available.

    Disclaimer: I am NOT a rep for any negative pressure wound therapy device manufacturers. I just use these machines a lot in my practice.

    1. I was actually on both a JP drain and a Wound Vac during the entire month of December and part of January recovering from surgery. I had some cysts removed from my lower back. From what I can tell having used both of them, the JP drain is basically all internal. My back was completely stitched and the tube fed in at the top of my stitches. The negative pressure drew out the blood keeping it from building up inside the wound.
      I was switched to the (incredibly expensive) wound vac a few weeks later when we demonstrated that the JP was not healing my back so the insurance company would actually pay for some of it.
      The wound vac was basically a sponge inserted into the wound, which was opened back up. A tube was placed against the sponge and sealed with a dressing. A vacuum that did have to be charged every six hours was attached to the tube to draw out the blood and such. Also a nurse had to come out and change the packing every two days.
      It would seem, based on what little I know about the suction drain here and the wound vac, that the drain is similar to both the vac and the JP in some ways.
      Given the choice between carrying a loud, heavy vac around during Christmas and that $3 pump, I probably would have taken the pump even if it was less effective (to a degree).

  5. I wasnt aware it was a question.. It draws blood to the wound. Blood contains everything necessary for healing etc.

    1. Sef, I’d patent it too. Because if you didn’t, someone would start making them and selling them for $300. By patenting it you can help keep the cost down, not make it go up.

      1. holtt.

        if you could sell something for $3, anybody trying to sell it at $300 would be called a rip-off and be run out of business in no time.

    2. Sometimes people with good intentions have to patent the device to prevent others (perhaps more profit driven) from doing so.

  6. I reckon that negative pressure would do a very good job of removing any space between separated tissue in a wound, which would make it a lot easier for those tissues to reconnect to each other.

  7. Who wants to speed up healing? Oh yeah i forgot.. The Patient.
    Is there any money to be made with this device?……..

  8. “Zurovcik and her team designed the devices to be made in a sustainable way. They can be manufactured locally in many developing nations, using equipment that already exists there, she says. She is already in discussions with a plastic molding company in Rwanda, she says.”

    This is the real genius – not only is she handing off a great, SIMPLE, accessible technology, but it sounds like she’s leaving it in the hands of a local business. I think calling it a “hack” is derogatory. Just because it doesn’t cost eleventy billion dollars, require government infrastructure, and multinational megacorporations to manage doesn’t mean it isn’t effective and very smart. Would anyone call the wheel a “cute little hack”?

    If she’s worked for Parters in Health, I don’t think for a second she’s concerned about her own profit.

    Good people doing really good things, amen.

    1. I agree with you about this person’s motives and the usefulness of the device, but I don’t think in this case hack is really an insult.

      It *is* a hack really. It’s a low-fi DIY-able solution to a problem that can be put together with local resources to solve a specific problem. It probably isn’t as ideal as the state-of-the-art version, but in places and times when that would simply not be available anyway it could seriously help people.

      Really, isn’t that the beauty of a hack?

      1. Hi there blueelm – I think I’m just splitting gnat whiskers over the term “hack” with you, and I really suspect antinous is correct that I am associating the word with a different context. But…

        To say that the low-tech is “not as ideal as” the high-tech is just assume value judgment I’m not willing to make – the low tech solution is from some perspectives much
        *better* and preferrable. It’s got a smaller environmental footprint, more available, more democratic, more adaptable, simpler. All those advantages trump some of the assumed advantages that the hi-tech version might have.

        To demean simplicity by saying “it’s not ideal, but it works” makes assumptions about what “ideal” really means.

        1. “To demean simplicity by saying “it’s not ideal, but it works” makes assumptions about what “ideal” really means”

          Well I’ll give you that. I don’t actually have much respect for ideals and tend to use the word ideal to mean the “perfect world scenario” that basically doesn’t exist. Really I’m kind of a die hard pragmatist, but I suppose that in itself could be considered an ideal :P

  9. Well, the idea is not new, as others have said, Jackson Pratt and VAC systems have been for years, maybe the important thing could be the very low price which makes it very useful on poor countries.

    1. Not just poor counties. If it works as advertised, this would be useful everywhere. Depending on where you look, the current hi-tech version of this therapy costs $100-$150 per day.

    1. Heh! “So, let’s just start with what we have. What did this do to you? Tell me. And remember, this is for posterity, so be honest. How do you feel?”

  10. This is a similar approach to many, genius level innovations:

    Eye glasses have been around for a long time, but Joshua Silver’s $1 adjustable eyeglasses for the developing world serve an unmet need.

    Prosthetics have been around for a long time, but a person/company that develops a low cost version that can apply to people who can’t afford the high cost version: genius.

    Lending principles have been around for a long time, but Grameen Bank created a paradigm shift in lending for the world’s poor.

    The list goes on. Innovation does not equal invention. It involves the process of taking something to market and meeting the needs of people. This is definitely innovative and corrects a market failure.

  11. How is this a new invention? It’s basically a JP drain. I’m bothered this person is getting credit for re-inventing the wheel. JP drain can’t cost much more. Both need to be sterile. Construction is almost identical. And from the pics I see of the “new” one, it looks flawed: by using opaque plastic, you can’t see what color the drainage is.

    A drain is never expensive. The real cost is in having trained surgeons to place a drain, an operating room, tools to do the surgery, and antibiotics if necessary.

    A neg pressure drain is not new or rare. It’s far more commonly used than a WoundVac. I get the feeling the guy who wrong the article didn’t do research beyond the press release he was given.

  12. the jp drain is used for internal negative pressure suction. this device is used for ulcerations and external wounds. wound vacs work incredibly well.

  13. I haven’t found a jackson-pratt drain for less than $160 on the web. (I know someone will, I just looked quick) They look more intricate on Amazon. It may exactly be a placebo effect (the costlier one must be better), or a liability thing (if they examine the procedures and find we used the $5 drain vs. the standard $200 drain, if something goes wrong, it’ll look substandard, even though we suspect it’s not). And on some levels it’s a greed thing, (adding $20 handling cost on a $200 piece of equipment is nothing, adding it to a $5 piece of equipment looks funny.)

    The subject itself is a whole economics dissertation.

    In my field, physical therapists get paid $20-40 an application to put a cold back or a hot pack on a patient, though a bag of frozen peas or hot water bottle is just as good at home. Silly, but that’s the nature of medical mark-up.

  14. I am the inventor of the laser level. I was very successful in licensing the patent. I also have a patent on en ECG electrode that leaves a simple line mark after being removed so 8 hours later the next person applying the electrodes places them in the exact spot the original electrodes were placed. This electrode in a cheap way makes the test accurate. Unfortunately the manufacturers did not think it was a moneymaker so it was never produced, but we will spend 10K on an ecg machine that is connected to these electrodes to make the test. What a joke our health care industry is.

  15. The device, a cylinder with accordion-like folds, is squeezed to create the suction, and then left in place, connected to the underside of the wound dressing by a thin plastic tube.

    Maybe there is a use for all those plastic water bottles we leave behind!

  16. What’s with the negativity? It’s cheap, portable, and potentially life-saving. Kudos to the inventor!

  17. I wonder if it works on acne. Imagine pimples getting sucked dry.

    And moles? I have to get a few removed every couple of years. I wish I could pump them away.

  18. Why knock an inexpensive solution to healing by comparing it to a more expensive device – what is wrong with using a simpler, lower-cost medical device than a solution that currently exists? If there is a patent pending for this, it is likely that the particulars do not infringe on other patents.
    Here’s a cheap device that could be used the world over. Low profit margins on medical devices should be applauded in my opinion. No profit motive for major advances would be even better, but few seem as noble as Dr. Salk these days.

  19. I would like to say Ditto on the 10,000% markup. People hardly realize the reasons behind the extreme cost of healthcare. Remember that when you are treated in a hospital there are two bills, one from the Doc and one from the H. On the hospital side they have to deal with costs that have never been adjusted for depreciation. For example, even today if I wanted to replace a 32gig scsi harddrive loaded with windows 95!! (thats right 95 still in use today in some medical equipment) from a control PC in a cysto room (xray + surgery) I would have to pay $10,000. This is accurate and the norm, if I wanted to upgrade the control PC to Win 2k it would cost me 100k. Medical device companies have failed to lower their prices on parts that have depreciated on the consumer market by thousands. I have countless invoices ranging from 10k to 250k to prove it. As an experiment I looked up the scsi drive, manu. by seagate nonetheless, and found it for $135 on Tdirect.

    I would support any medical device and manufacutrer that encouraged a low cost design as well as maintenance program.

    I am a Biomedical Engineer and have worked for several Hospital groups in many states. I have worked on Woundvacs and they are reliable, remarkable, and very expensive to replace. They are typically use as an ‘out’ patient type of therapy.

  20. A JP drain is used to redirect fluid that accumulates after tissue trauma (surgery)-basically decreasing swelling. A wound vac absorbs drainage from an open, draining wound which would otherwise saturate some type of gauze or sponge dressing. This device is intended to take the place of a wound vac-not a JP and sounds incredible. I hope it makes it to the market. It will save lots of $$.

  21. As a wound care nurse, I understand the rationale for using this type of device.The wound V.A.C. (vacuum assisted closure) that others have discussed (by KCI in San Antonio, TX) has proven itself to be far superior to other electric versions available in the United States that do not use foam inside of the wound. I feel that comparing a VAC to a JP drain minimizes the other benefits of the VAC therapy; it is not just about removing fluid.

  22. this is a less-expensive version of the negative pressue wound therapy (NPWT) device sold by a company HQ’d in San Antonio. When I worked for them, it was rumored we would have a “disposable” version. This could have been the same type of technology. seems like a reasonable, disposable, device. Said company might be a bit worried unless they’re already in talks to purchase the patents from the student.

  23. can’t you just use your mouth? yeah, it’s kind of disgusting, but people suck on small wounds anyway.

  24. Can this be adapted to perform more rapid evacuations of body cavities? I.E., if one were to need 7-10 LPM flow at around 70-110mmHg for 2-3 seconds, would something like this suffice?

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