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A coup for "4 Girls, a Guy and a Pump."

Classroom project may move to operating room

PITTSBURGH - When a small company in Oakdale needed to brainstorm how to improve its medical products, it turned to a bunch of college students.

For nothing more than class credit, a team of Carnegie Mellon University seniors calling themselves "4 Girls, a Guy and a Pump" have given Wright Therapy Products a complete redesign of its inflatable cuff system to treat deep-vein thrombosis.

It's one of nine prototypes introduced this month in the university's senior design class in biomedical engineering. Others include a tripod that bolts to the skull to guide deep-brain stimulation, a method of screening children for heart murmurs, and an implantable kidney monitor.

Wright Therapy now makes a thigh-high boot with undulating air pressure to promote blood circulation in patients with damaged veins. In search of a redesign to let patients walk while receiving the therapy, chief executive officer Carol Wright asked professor James Antaki if his students would like to take a crack at the problem.

"It created an energy at our business when the students came," Wright said.

She said her company would develop the team's prototype - a knee-to-ankle cuff with a smaller, lighter pump and a less cumbersome air hose.

While no money is involved, engineering major Irina Khaimovich, 21, said the students had gotten valuable experience.

"A lot of our schooling is theoretical. It's just our own knowledge in our own heads," she said. This "is a lot more rewarding than putting it down on a written test."

Antaki has taught the class at Carnegie Mellon since 2003. He said the final presentations - in which the teams described their projects to classmates, advisers and several doctors - was his favorite part.

"You wouldn't have known they were a bunch of students," Antaki said. "They could have been young entrepreneurs talking to venture capitalists."

Another team spent about $50 on supplies - and borrowed other materials, including a pig kidney - to design an implantable probe for monitoring kidneys during heart-bypass surgery.

Jobs and graduate school will prevent the group from pursuing the idea further, but Sophia Woodley said she hoped the concept found its way to the operating room.

"If it goes on, it started here, and we had the first hand in it," said Woodley, 21.