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.