Ascension Seton Invention: Ringless Needle Holder


Dr. Steven Henry demonstrates

Dr. Steven Henry demonstrates

A ringless needle holder, invented and designed for more efficient suturing during surgeries, is the first medical device of its kind developed and licensed by Ascension Seton. It soon will be made available to surgeons across the U.S.

Here is a video of the device. KEYE, FOX 7, KVUE, the Austin Business Journal, Austin American-Statesman,, and posted stories.

An exclusive licensing agreement with Medical Innovation Labs (MIL), an Austin company, has been signed to commercialize this new surgical tool. MIL, which commercializes breakthrough medical and clinical research by translating discoveries and inventions into products that meaningfully improve patient care, will have exclusive rights to develop and manufacture the ringless needle holder.

“This novel device is elegant and simple, improving outcomes for one of the most common medical procedures,” said Dr. Michael Patton, Medical Innovation Labs president and chief executive officer. “The best opportunities to advance medicine come from clinicians who work every single day on real problems. We are very excited for Ascension Seton. This is just the beginning of a long-term project to commercialize their incredible work system-wide.”

shf_innovationThis marks the first time Ascension Seton has ventured into medical device invention, intellectual property protection and commercialization, due to the work of Seton’s Innovation and Technology Commercialization Team, formed in 2014. Ascension Seton is a member of Ascension, the nation’s largest nonprofit healthcare system.

The agreement also demonstrates Seton’s commitment to work with local healthcare companies, build a local “medtech” economy and create new jobs.

“We hope that, by establishing a relationship with MIL, we can generate more opportunities like this in Austin and fulfill the high expectations for health innovation in Central Texas and beyond,” said Mike Millard, executive director for Ascension Seton Innovation and Technology Commercialization.

Dr. James Allred

Dr. James Allred

The ringless needle holder was invented by Dr. James Allred, a former Ascension Seton dermatology resident and now a practicing dermatologist in Bowling Green, Ky.

“While I held expertise in medicine, I quickly found that bringing a medical innovation to reality required a team approach,” Allred said. “With Ascension Seton’s Innovation and Technology Commercialization department and MIL, I found other professionals with expertise in engineering, intellectual property and business development who were passionate about innovation.”

One of the original needle holders, also commonly called a “needle driver,” was first patented in 1920, making Allred’s improvement in eliminating the rings among the few redesigns of this surgical instrument in almost 100 years.

The ringless needle holder lacks the familiar rings in the original invention, which resemble a pair of scissors. No rings means no inserting fingers into and out of rings, and that means surgeons will have more torque and flexibility when sewing up an incision.

This eliminates the need for a surgical technique called palming, where the surgeon repositions his or her fingers outside of the rings during suturing and rotates the needle holder using the palm of a hand. A more efficient turn of the wrist can mean speedier and cleaner suturing.

Quicker and cleaner procedures also can translate to less time on the operating table for patients and potentially better health outcomes. More efficient surgeries can also mean cost savings for the patient and hospital.

“Dr. Allred represents clinicians everywhere who want to improve health care through innovation,” Patton said. “As far as inventing goes, he is just getting started, and he continues to inspire us.”

Clinical trials still need to occur. Prototypes and licensing deals are in place. Next, MIL will further develop the ringless needle driver and bring it to the bedside.

The original ringless needle holder invention prototypes were built by Allred with Vanessa White, Tyler Mange, Amy Mistry and Karla Sanchez, former students at The University of Texas at Austin’s Department of Biomedical Engineering who have since graduated.

“My experience is merely the tip of the iceberg for the opportunities that exist to improve patient care by bringing the expertise that exists within Ascension Seton, UT and Austin to fruition,” Allred said. “It’s still difficult to believe that my ideas – which first only existed in my imagination years ago – might soon actually be in the hands of health care providers.”

Ascension Seton clinicians are inventing more medical devices with the support of the Innovation and Technology Commercialization team. In the past two years, four new patent applications for inventions were filed by Ascension Seton with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.

More breakthrough inventions are expected as a culture of innovation spreads across Ascension Seton and elsewhere in Austin. Major drivers will include Dell Ascension Seton Medical Center at The University of Texas, Seton’s new teaching hospital that opens in 2017; UT’s Dell Medical School, which opens in 2016; and more collaboration across Austin’s Innovation Zone.

Mike Millard

Mike Millard

“We want to take local ideas and turn them into products and services that are adopted in the global marketplace, bringing value to all patients,” Millard said. “We want to innovate and embrace inventors, startups, ‘intrapreneurs’ and entrepreneurs alike. Working with professionals and partners such as MIL will make this vision a reality.”

About Medical Innovation Labs

Medical Innovation Labs is a new hub for healthcare innovation in Central Texas. We commercialize breakthrough medical research with new venture concepts that uniquely address acute clinical needs in hospitals nationwide.

Together with medical researchers, clinicians, engineers, entrepreneurs and administrators, we distribute innovative technologies that solve some of the most pressing issues in patient care. We guide individuals and teams through the entire medical innovation life cycle, from identification of acute clinical needs and proof of concept to design, marketing and commercialization.

Medical Innovation Labs exists to make sure that the best medical innovations in the world are made available wherever they are needed most.

For more information, visit