UA Nursing Faculty’s Unique Solution to Preventing the Health-Related Downsides of Immobility

Oct. 9, 2019

University of Arizona College of Nursing Clinical Associate Professor Laura McRee, DNP, ACNP-BC, LMT, RNFA has worn many hats during her career – including Doctor of Nursing Practice professor and Advanced Practice Nurse – but she’s about to add a new one to her collection: Inventor. After seven years of development, the Bed Sled, an exercise device she created to mitigate the adverse effects of bed rest and other mobility limitations, recently received a notice of allowance by the United States Patent and Trademark Office.

The milestone is the culmination of Dr. McRee’s partnership with Tech Launch Arizona (TLA) and the National Science Foundation Innovation Corps (NSF I-Corps) Site Program and is an indication that the device may soon makes its debut in the marketplace.

"Bed Sled has the potential to appeal to a global market. Sometimes, it doesn’t have to be a complex change that makes a profound difference to prevent adverse consequences and promote health.” ~ Laura McRee, DNP, ACNP-BC, LMT, RNFA

The innovative resistance training device promotes movement for a patient’s lower legs for movement and varied levels of resistance, thereby preventing muscle de-conditioning and venous stasis which can lead to formation of blood clots. Equipped with a sensor to record the amount of pressure applied and the number of depressions of the footpad, the Bed-Sled tracks the progress of a patient’s usage, number of repetitions and level of resistance.  

“Long periods of immobility have ravaging effects on your body,” Dr. McRee says, noting that people with mobility issues are prone to an array of adverse reactions, including rapid reduction of muscle mass and bone density that decreases a patient’s muscle strength over time. One of the direct consequences can be deep vein thrombosis (DVT), which creates a risk of pulmonary embolism, a condition that is responsible for 60,000-100,000 deaths in the United States each year.

Currently, the only treatments available to treat DVT in health-care settings are anti-coagulant injections with potentially serious side effects or sequential compression devices. Unlike those solution, Dr. McRee points out, the Bed Sled has no negative side effects. “It’s ideal if you can engage the muscles the natural way to prevent DVT and muscle conditioning,” she says. “Nothing like it is available in the marketplace right now. One of the best things is that this isn’t strictly for institutionalized use. It can be used for anybody in the commercial market. The electronic part is basic, the set-up is easy and because of that it will be cost-effective.”

After participating in NSF I-Corps program managed by TLA – a six-week course that teaches lean startup methods and helps academic entrepreneurs learn about customer discovery –  Dr. McRee connected with Mark Baker, TLA commercialization partner. With Baker’s help, she secured asset development funding from TLA to build two successive functional prototypes. Reviews by engineers and physical therapist fine-tuned the invention, which ultimately led to the patent application.

“The current sled will definitely work in a hospital bed,” Dr. McRee says. Usability testing on the next prototype, which is in development now, with help finalize the device.

Kaitlyn Norman-Powers, TLA Licensing Manager for UA Health Sciences, has high expectations for the Bed Sled’s future. “We’re hoping by spring of next year that we have a really good working prototype that can be licensed to the startup so they can start going out to potential customers,” she says. Once the intellectual property protection is in place, Norman-Powers says, the device will be licensed to a start-up company, which will aid in commercializing the final version. Demand is anticipated to be substantial, since according to the National Care Planning Council, there are about 1.7 million beds in nursing homes in the U.S. alone and an estimated 19.6 million hospital beds in the world.

Dr. McRee’s invention could ultimately save billions of dollars through use in hospitals for physical therapy, but the average consumer stands to benefit as well. Thanks to her participation in the current NSF I-Corps, she is gaining the expertise to expand commercial possibilities for the Bed-Sled and to target a broader base of customers. Current customer bases include hospitals and nursing homes, medical supply firms, home users and travelers who face the risks of extended periods of immobility. “Bed Sled has the potential to appeal to a global market,” says McRee, pointing out that accessibility and ease of use can benefit anybody in an immobile state, young or old. “Sometimes, it doesn’t have to be a complex change that makes a profound difference to prevent adverse consequences and promote health.”