In abdominal surgery, setting up and adjusting surgical retractor systems regularly consumes 5 to 20 minutes of operating room (OR) time, which costs about $100 per minute. After the surgery is complete, cleaning and sterilizing the system’s dozens of components takes another 2 to 3 hours. Steeltown Retractor provides surgeons with rapid and precise surgical exposures while minimizing OR and overhead costs for the hospital. The system consists of two simple-to-use parts: a motorized base unit that quickly clamps to the OR table and a retractor-carrying flexible arm. The surgical team simply peels the arm from a sterile pack, snaps it onto the base, and discards it after use. The combined US and European market opportunity – 2 million open abdominal surgeries annually – is estimated at $235 million.

Technology Description

Existing retractor systems require surgeons to locate and assemble dozens of pieces in the correct order during a surgery, and adjustments require a partial teardown and rebuild of the system before the surgery can progress. Furthermore, the geometry of the retractor system limits retractor positioning, which necessitates the use of handheld retractors for hard-to-reach locations. Steeltown Retractor’s flexible arm provides a simple, intuitive interface that allows surgeons to rapidly reposition surgical tools as if they were handheld retractors. Surgeons simply press a button on the arm to make it flexible, move the arm to the desired position, release the button to make the arm rigid again, and then lock the retractor in place. The motorized base unit carries out the actuation. Team-affiliated surgeons have evaluated proof-of-concept prototypes have been evaluated for form and function.


  • Simplified user experience
  • Unconstrained retractor positioning options
  • Minimal setup and adjustment time
  • Eliminates sterilization requirements


  • Surgical Retraction
  • Limb Positioning

IP Status

An US provisional patent application was filed on February 2, 2017.

Stage of Development

Development of generation-III pre-commercial devices is ongoing. These devices will be tested through real-application use in approximately 100 abdominal surgeries starting in 2018.

Notable Mentions

  • Coulter Translational Partnership II Program at the University of Pittsburgh ($100k)
  • University of Pittsburgh Center for Medical Innovation ($45k, two rounds)
  • Pitt Ventures First Gear (2nd place, $8k)