Summer of Glove: Summer Scholar Goncalves Refines Hand-Therapy Device

7/30/2014

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDS), nearly 4 million patients visit U.S. emergency rooms for hand-related injuries annually. And nearly 60 percent of these patients never regain full, normal hand function due to residual scar tissue created by those injuries.

Now Stevens student researchers, including Summer Scholar Kristen Goncalves '16, are working to change these statistics.

A novel therapeutic device known as TheraGlove — first devised by a four-member Stevens senior design team advised by biomedical engineering professor Dr. Vikki Hazelwood — aims to improve the quality of life for hand-injury patients. The prototype device, a squarish transparent box roughly the size of a television cable box, closes over a hand and inflates specially positioned air bladders attached to heated or cooled gel packs softly around the hand in a specific direction. (The eventual commercial product would be smaller, softer-edged and sterilized.)

The device can be used for a wide variety of hand injuries including fractures, arthritic conditions and tendon injuries, and repeated use provides compression around the site of the injury, stimulates blood flow toward the heart and reduces swelling, all of which can help reduce the formation of scar tissue — which limits subsequent mobility — post-injury.

"This device is an improvement on the technology and techniques of physical therapy," says Hazelwood, noting that a provisional patent application is pending for the device originally developed by Class of 2014 graduates Tara Callahan, Lauren Hammerle, Ashley Princiotta and Becky Wos as their senior design project. "Existing devices are basically bladders that wrap around an injury. They do not necessarily massage and contact the intricate areas in the hand or between the fingers. Especially for arthritis and severe injuries, these are where the hand could become permanently contorted if the right care isn't given."

Goncalves, a sophomore biomedical engineering major from Dix Hills, New York, took up the challenge of modifying and improving TheraGlove through the annual ten-week Innovation & Entrepreneurship Summer Scholars program.

"In high school, I had thought about becoming a med-school student," she explains. "My mom got me interested in biomedical engineering, which is another great field that also helps people, and that's how I came to Stevens. When I heard about the Summer Scholars program, I spoke to Dr. Hazelwood about applying and was later accepted."

For seven hours per day, Goncalves (with part-time assistance from Scholars Program student Jeremy Roche) experimented with different gel materials, gel packs and designs for the compartmentalized air bladders under Hazelwood's watch in an effort to make the device more effective at improving edema flow out of the hand and at fitting more snugly around the fingers. A physical therapist in Maywood contributes additional design insights, as well.

"Kristen was identified as a student who could work on some of the issues still open at the conclusion of the Senior Design Project, carry them forward and further identify the opportunities for commercialization," points out Hazelwood. "We have made a number of redesign recommendations based upon her work. She was able to identify areas where improvements needed to be developed so that this can be commercialized, significant steps such as, for example, creating a solution to the gel system and modifying the bladder and the housing."

Goncalves, who also plays wingback on the varsity women's soccer, belongs to the Phi Sigma Sigma sorority and practices violin in her free time, expects to complete both her bachelor’s and master's degrees in biomedical engineering on a five-year plan. She will be joined on campus by sister Kaitlin, an incoming freshman who expects to major in finance, in fall 2014.

After graduation?

"I am definitely interested in contributing to society," Goncalves says. "Where that will be — the medical device industry, or a clinical setting, or in some aspect of business — it's too soon to say. But I am certain that the rigor of the curriculum here and the experience I am gaining in project management of teams, keeping everyone track, will be incredibly valuable in the career marketplace."