Surgical Screw Cutter

About the Project

The screw cutter can help surgeons create custom screws to treat injuries when vital surgical screws are unavailable.

Trauma accidents are one of the leading causes of death and disability in low and middle income countries. There are 5 million global traumatic fatalities yearly, and 90% of these occur in developing nations. To put that in perspective, there are four times as many people killed in road accidents in Uganda than in Canada. With this number rising steadily, the trauma centers in these countries do not have the physical and human resources to serve the needs of their patients. To provide effective treatment for traumatic injuries, proper surgical consumables are required. Our project’s focus is a need founded upon 10+ years of surgical experience brought forth by surgeons at the Uganda Sustainable Trauma Orthopedic Program (USTOP). From the USTOP program, we learned about the significant challenges that orthopedic care faces in Uganda; namely lack of access to appropriately sized surgical screws. Our team’s goal was to address the inadequate surgical screw inventory in low-resource hospitals. Mulago National Referral Hospital in Uganda obtains their screw sets through a donation supply chain process, which often does not keep up with the demand for appropriately sized screws.

It is common in a low-resource hospital that when a vital screw size is missing, the surgical team has to resort to either cutting the screw with a adapted pin cutter or risk inserting an incorrectly sized screw. We learned from local physicians that, not only do pin cutters damage the threads and the tip of the screw, but inserting an incorrectly sized or damaged screw can lead to serious health complications. Our group was motivated to design a simple surgical device that could cut screws to an appropriate length without damaging them; allowing low-resource hospitals to optimally use their existing inventories. We believe that adopting our existing simplistic screw cutter into the operating room workflow can enable surgeons to deliver a higher quality of care in low-resource settings.

Future Potential

We are seeking to collaborate with medical suppliers or an NGO, who would be interested in manufacturing and distributing the device.

Reflections on the EiS Program

The purpose of the course is to learn the biodesign methodology and understand the process. The “minimal class-time” approach of the program allowed me to research my project, learn new skills, and gain a better understanding of the medical technology landscape. This EiS program not only provided me with a deep appreciation for the needs and uses of technology in health care, but it has also enabled me to identify intuitive tools to aid clinicians. Most students would agree that that the networking opportunities provided within the clinical setting serves as a fantastic launch pad for fascinated young innovators. More institutions should champion the EiS program, as it enables those to learn how to change health care locally and world wide.


The James Dyson Award for Design Engineering – International Top 20 Short List

Clinton Global Initiative Showcase Presenter

The University of British Columbia’s APSC Video Contest Award (1st Place)

Rismani S., G. Allan, V. Chung, R. Tam, D.R. Wilson, and H.F.M. Van der Loos. “Applying the biodesign innovation process: Addressing the inadequate supply of surgical screws in the developing world”. In: 2014 IEEE Healthcare Innovation Conference.

Allan, G. “Rethinking Education: When surgeons and engineering students join forces to solve real problems, success follows.” In: Pulse, IEEE 6.5, pp. 29-32

Team Members

• Gregory Allan

• Vivan Chung

• Andrew Meyer

• Shalaleh Risman


• Nathan O’Hara – Uganda Sustainable Trauma Orthopaedic Program (USTOP) Administrator

• Dr. Piotr Blachut – Orthopaedic Surgeon

• Dr. Peter O’Brien – Orthopaedic Surgeon

• Dr. Robin Coope – Biomedical Engineer for the BC Cancer Agency