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Last updated on April 17, 2014 at 21:23 EDT

Award-winning Device May Benefit Treatment Of Hand njuries

July 7, 2009

A team of Rice University bioengineering students who invented a
device to measure intrinsic hand muscle strength has won two
prestigious honors for their patent-pending creation, PRIME. The device
could revolutionize the diagnosis and treatment of hand injuries and
neurological disorders, specifically carpal tunnel syndrome.

The
OrthoIntrinsics team won first place and $10,000 at IShow, an
innovation competition for graduate and undergraduate students
sponsored by the American Society of Mechanical Engineers in Palm
Desert, Calif., this June.

They were then named one of five
winners in a student design competition sponsored by the National
Science Foundation at the Rehabilitation Engineering and Assistive
Technology Society of North America conference in New Orleans in late
June. The top five, unranked, were selected from more than 60 entries.

Graduates
Caterina Kaffes, Matthew Miller, Neel Shah and Shuai “Steve” Xu
invented PRIME, or Peg Restrained Intrinsic Muscle Evaluator, for their
senior project. They are working with the Rice Alliance, which aids
early stage technology ventures, and the Jones Graduate School of
Business to refine their business plan while validation of the device
is under way at two leading Texas Medical Center institutions, the
Methodist Hospital and Shriners Hospital for Children.

The
challenge presented by Gloria Gogola, an orthopedic hand surgeon
specializing in pediatrics, was to create a device that accurately
measures intrinsic hand muscles, which allow humans to play a piano or
perform any task that requires dexterity and precision.

“Twenty
percent of all ER admissions are hand-related,” Xu said. “Neuromuscular
disorders like spinal cord injuries, Lou Gehrig’s, diabetes, multiple
sclerosis — all these diseases affect the intrinsic hand muscles.” 

For
starters, the team is honing in on carpal tunnel syndrome. “U.S.
surgeons will perform over 500,000 procedures for carpal tunnel this
year. We spend $2 billion per year treating this disease but up to 20
percent of all surgeries need to be redone. Our invention can be used
across the spectrum of care from diagnosis to outcome measurements,” Xu
said.

Anybody who’s ever had a checkup knows how doctors
routinely test strength — hold up a hand, push this way, push that
way. The assessment is by feel, nothing quantifiable. Xu said previous
devices lack the repeatability to be useful and do not adjust for small
hands or unusual morphologies.

PRIME is intended to fill
that gap. The device has three elements: a pegboard restraint, a force
transducer enclosure and a PDA custom-programmed to capture
measurements.

In a five-minute test, a doctor uses pegs to
isolate a patient’s individual fingers. “You wouldn’t think it works as
well as it does, but once you are pegged in, you can’t move anything
but the finger we want you to,” Miller said.

A loop is
fitted around the finger, and when the patient moves it, the amount of
force generated is measured. “PRIME gets the peak force,” Xu said.
“Then the doctor can create a patient-specific file with all your
information, time-stamped, and record every single measurement.” PRIME
integrates with existing systems in a manner compliant with the Health
Information Portability and Accountability Act, better known as HIPAA,
he said.

Xu hopes it will help hospitals and rehabilitation
clinics compare the effectiveness of surgical interventions and
diagnose neuromuscular degenerative diseases. “There’s so much
applicability, it’s hard to pinpoint our market size,” he said.

Gogola said PRIME has found a home in her clinic. “We’ve been using it on patients, and it’s working very nicely.

“This particular student group worked extremely hard on the project,
and they went above and beyond the course requirements. They took this
from a concept to an actual working, clinically useful device.”

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