SPRINGFIELD — Bharat Shah has known he wanted to be a doctor since he was in eighth grade.
"I checked out a book on anatomy from the library, and I read it and checked it out again and again," Shah says.
He just didn't know he'd end up an inventor, too.
Shah, a St. John's plastic surgeon, has come up with a new way to wire a patient's jaw shut that is being developed by Inveno Health, which is the commercialization arm of St. John's Medical Research Institute. The new jaw wiring should be available within a year.
Inveno Health was established in 2009 with a grant from the Missouri Life Science Trust Fund, says Matt Price, operations manager. Inveno Health helps with the research, manufacture, marketing and distribution of products that are created by St. John's medical experts, like Shah.
The new jaw wiring method — which uses plastic instead of stainless steel — is safer for patients and medical staff, Shah says.
When a jaw is wired shut, the wires are literally twisted by hand and the wires can poke through a medical glove and cut staff, exposing them to bacteria and diseases such as HIV.
"It puts us at risk," Shah says.
The new method is more like braces that hold the jaw in position and clip together.
"It gives the same stability without the wires," he says.
When a patient's jaw is wired shut, if they have to vomit, which can happen after anesthesia, the patient has to have someone cut their wires with wire cutters. The new plastic device can be severed with household scissors.
There's a comfort issue, too. "It's like having a mouth full of barbed wire," he says of the old method.
The idea for this came to him in 2001, but he didn't pursue it because inventions are complicated and can be expensive to develop.
Once Inveno Health came along, which gives doctors a platform for their inventions, he pursued it.
And he hasn't stopped there.
Another one of his inventions, a bed used to secure an infant during surgery, will be ready for patient use by the end of June, and a prototype has already been used in surgery at the hospital.
This invention will significantly cut the time an infant has to be sedated during certain surgeries.
The longer he's a doctor, the more he recognizes problems and thinks, "I can't believe we don't have something to make this easier."
And there are more ideas in the works.
"Now I can't stop," he laughs. "They (staff at Inveno Health) get a text from me saying 'I have another idea.'"
Keela Davis, technical research director, says developing a product is a continual process, but it starts with a good idea and a solution to a problem.
Once the medical expert explains their vision, the Inveno team begins the research: they see what's been published, if there is a similar product or an existing patent, where it can be manufactured, pricing and if the product will work.
If they decide to develop the product, they meet with engineers and scientists to develop a prototype. Then, they work on tests, more prototypes and patents.
The doctor or inventor is constantly involved in this process, and they work as a team so there are no surprises at the end, says Shah.
Inveno Health will either sell the product or find a company to license and sell it for them.
Finally, a product has to go through FDA approval, so getting a product on the market is a lengthy process, explains Price.
They have 20 active products in development with 30 others waiting to be developed, and products run the gamut, Davis says.
"The market is coming to us," Price says. "The nice thing about this is there is already a problem and solution, so you know there is a need for the product they're introducing to the market. With other products, you have a product and hope there is need or people will buy it."
The concept of Inveno Health is somewhat unusual, though something similar is available at The Cleveland Clinic and a few other places, says Davis.
It's an excellent resource for doctors and other health care professionals who see needs in health care settings and are now able to introduce solutions to address those needs, Shah says.