A device that helps patients keep a steady gaze during eye surgery took the Grand Prize Runner-Up award at the 2023 Bench to Bedside competition presented by the Center for Medical Innovation at University of Utah Health.
Named the OcuGuide, the invention is the brainchild of Joanna Gorka, a medical student and aspiring ophthalmologist at the University of Utah.
“Joanna designed the device, built a model, obtained a patent, and presented her product to the judges amidst many other amazing medical innovations designed by larger teams,” says John A. Moran Eye Center ophthalmologist Austin Nakatsuka, MD, one of Gorka’s mentors. “And she did it while finishing her second year of medical school.”
Gorka has assisted in Moran research labs and on an eye care outreach trip to the Navajo Nation. Inspiration struck while she was job shadowing Moran surgeons, including Nakatsuka.
“Eye surgeries are typically performed with pain blockers rather than general anesthesia, so patients are awake and must follow verbal commands to move their eyes to certain positions and hold them there, something we call fixation,” explains Gorka. “A surgeon may ask the patient to hold still and ‘look at the light’ of the operating microscope positioned above their eyes. But I noticed this can be difficult for some patients, which is then problematic for surgeons.”
For example, glaucoma surgery to place a stent inside the eye requires a surgeon to precisely position hand-held tools both inside and outside of the eye. Fixation is equally critical during cataract surgery, the most common eye surgery worldwide, in which surgeons remove the eye’s aging natural lens and replace it with an artificial one.
Gorka’s OcuGuide provides a high-tech, low-risk solution. It consists of a small LED-based device that attaches to the operating microscope and offers 360 degrees of customizable fixation points, adjustable patterns, brightness, and color options.
Surgeons operate the device hands-free, either by voice control, a foot pedal, or with the help of an assistant and a touch-screen panel. The patient simply fixates on the light the surgeon chooses. The system prevents unplanned eye movements during critical parts of eye surgery, greatly reducing the risk and possible costs of surgical complications.
Gorka is now evaluating whether to market the device to major microscope manufacturers or start her own company, following in the steps of mentor, Barbara Wirostko, MD, FARVO, co-founder/CMO, Qlaris Bio, Inc. Gorka was also mentored by Mark Whalen, MBA, Sr. Marketing Analyst, Summit Venture Studio, and collaborated Adam Gorka, a computer science student at the University of Pennsylvania.
About the B2B Competition
Utah's premier health care innovation competition, the Bench to Bedside (B2B) program offers students from all backgrounds the opportunity to learn from health care professionals about the problems facing day-to-day patient care and develop tangible, innovative solutions.