CleanCath Catheter Sterilizer
This concept is being developed further with the mentorship provided by the SVA Groundfloor Incubator. It has received the Student Runner-Up recognition from the Core77 Design Awards in Design Strategy & Research. The work has been shown at the Global Grad Show in Dubai Design Week, and was on display in an exhibition of student work on design for inclusion and accessibility at the Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Institute in New York City.
What: A catheter sterilizer that uses UV-C radiation to sterilize used catheters
Who: Individuals with SCI/D who use intermittent catheters in their bladder program
Where: Products of Design class “3D Product Development 2” under the guidance of Sinclair Smith
When: Products of Design, Semester 4
Why: The CleanCath originated from early thesis work on incontinence and bowel management. “Having to relearn urination and defecation” was one of the hardest things to adjust to after sustaining a SCI/D, according to users. This is particularly urgent from a design perspective, since the topic of elimination is not openly discussed, and there can be a lot of shame initially associated with it. Indeed, urination and defecation are two of the first things that individuals learn in their development as human beings—even before forming memories. The inability to control these biological processes after sustaining an SCI/D, in many cases, amplifies the loss of identity and control that people with SCI/D experience immediately after their injury.
How: I learned from one of my subject matter experts that she reuses single-use catheters for her urination regimen—though this absolutely "not a doctor-recommended activity" because of the potential for urinary tract infection (UTIs). And because her insurance pays out once a month, she has to predict ahead of time how much she would urinate the next month—an impossible task that forced her to stockpile catheters and then to reuse them. (Many users who engage in reuse store the catheters in Tupperware containers.)
I wanted to design for actual user practices, instead of designing for what was doctor-recommended. Recognizing that the reuse of intermittent catheters did carry with it significant risks, I explored various methods of sterilizing catheters—from rinsing with hot water and rubbing alcohol, to using dry heat, to using UV-C radiation. The last method was most effective, and is the central technology for the CleanCath device which incorporates a UV-C fluorescent bulb at its center. CleanCath allows users to quickly and effectively sterilize their catheters, should they find themselves forced to reuse them.
Here’s how CleanCath works: first, users rinse out their used catheters with warm water, and then place them into the device. Closing the lid automatically initiates the cleaning cycle, turning on the UV-C bulb which irradiates the catheters and renders them sterile. Early iterations of the product design featured a detachable oblong cylindrical container—equipped with a quartz glass interior that slid over the bulb and attaching to the base of the sterilizer at an angle. A silicone base provided impact absorption, and the angled design was chosen so that a wheelchair user could examine and manipulate the contents of the CleanCath comfortably from a seated position. The device was designed to fit and sterilize multiple catheters at once, but allowed for a single catheter to be removed with minimal risk of contaminating the others. Finally, the design provided for easy transport for travel.
To develop the product, I deconstructed existing UV-C products, pulling apart their componentry in order to better engineer a functional and feasible device. Revising the design for the CleanCath, I put the UV-C bulb into a separable body of the device—powered via an onboard rechargeable battery and increasing its portability—and then turned the base into an inductive charging stand. Finally, the internal chamber was split into two halves—allowing users to store their used-but-rinsed catheters in one half, and their unused, sterile catheters in the other. Even if the battery lost its charge, sterility would still be maintained.
The initial iterations of the CleanCath’s design borrowed heavily from the aesthetics of existing medical devices; at the time, it seemed natural to use the familiar formal and graphic vernacular of medical products—“antiseptic plastic” with blue graphics and highlights.
But nearing the completion of the project, I wanted to move away from a providing a 'medicalized' device. Instead, I wanted to create a humanized product. I believed that my users could be proud of a product that they depended on several times a day, and wanted this daily touchpoint of disability to refrain from psychologically transporting its users back to the hospital the way that other medical devices do through their aesthetics and form.
I explored materials not typically used for medical devices in an attempt to make the product more naturally fitting into the objects that his users might already carry—mobile phones, Bluetooth speakers, quantified-self bracelets, and the like. Despite beginning my thesis as a designer who was enamored of function and features, tending to discount the importance of aesthetics and form as mere window-dressing , I realized that aesthetics and form can be just as functional as product features, especially for individuals looking to regain their sense of identity in the face of a life-altering accident.