Cooper Innovation Center gets $100K to develop chest-drainage device

Cooper University Health Care’s Center for Innovation recently announced it received a $100,000 grant from the Foundation for Health Advancement to study and develop a new body cavity evacuator used to drain fluid from the pleural space of the lungs.

The novel device, invented and developed by Cooper thoracic surgeon Dr. David Shersher and Cooper pulmonologist Dr. Wissam Abouzgheib, has the potential to provide a more effective, less invasive way to drain fluid from the body than current methods.

Evacuators are devices used by physicians to remove fluids from different parts of the body following surgery or certain illnesses. The physicians developed the new device to address a condition called pleural effusion. Pleural effusion is fluid that collects in the pleural space, which is the space between the two layers of the pleura, the thin covering that protects and cushions the lungs.

“One kind of pleural effusion is pleural empyema, which is a collection of pus in the pleural cavity caused by microorganisms, usually bacteria,” Abouzgheib explained. “Often, pleural empyema happens in the context of pneumonia, injury or chest surgery. Because of the thick nature of this fluid, it is often difficult to evacuate.”

Empyema affects more than 32,000 patients in the U.S. annually and is associated with elevated morbidity and mortality. According to Shersher, approximately 20% to 30% of patients affected will either die or require further surgery in the first year after developing empyema.

“Early intervention is crucial in the management of empyema by removing the pus from the pleural space to control or eliminate infection,” Shersher said.

Existing methods of removing fluid from body cavities are ineffective or, in the case of pleural empyema, overly cumbersome due to the viscous nature of the pus, requiring the simultaneous use of two separate entry points into the body. Multiple devices are often needed.

In response, Shersher and Abouzgheib developed the Body Cavity Evacuator, a device that effectively perfuses (or irrigates) the cavity and then removes viscous fluid using only one entry point. The simplicity of the device will allow physicians to optimize perfusion and drainage in a minimally invasive way, lowering a patient’s risk of infection or further complications.

The grant funding will be used for the development and testing of several protypes devices. While originally developed as a solution to pleural empyema, testing may show further uses of the evacuator to treat other conditions.

“When Dr. Shersher and Dr. Abouzgheib presented their idea to us, we wanted to learn more about the project because we saw how strong of a team they are and the unmet need in simplifying this process,” Dr. George Heinrich, vice chair and CEO of New Jersey Health Foundation, an affiliate of FHA, said. “We are excited that this innovation grant will assist in the early development of the prototype and then lead to the body cavity evacuator device, which will improve patient outcomes.”

“Once again, we are thrilled to be working with the FHA to help develop and bring another promising new device to market,” Neal Lemon, director of the Cooper Innovation Center, which was founded in 2022 to advance biomedical research and technologies developed by Cooper physicians and researchers, said. “It is a great example of how Cooper innovations are working to change medical practice and improve patient care.”