Biomedical engineering students apply problem-solving skills to hand rehab

zoom screenshot of students.

Following the university’s shift to online learning last semester, the SaeboFlex glove project team continued to work on their project remotely, and held regular zoom meetings to keep the project on track.

By Nicole Capozziello

Published September 2, 2020

Each year, millions of people suffer from neurological impairments such as strokes. For these individuals, a crucial part of rehabilitation is to improve the use of their hands and arms. 

"It was really cool to see how vibrant a project can become when you bring together perspectives from the medical field and the engineering field.”
Donia Ahmed, senior and project lead
Department of Biomedical Engineering

During spring semester, students from the University at Buffalo Biomedical Engineering Society (BMES) chapter collaborated with the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences intramural program to work with Saebo, a biomedical device company, on improving the SaeboFlex glove, the current market standard for rehabilitation of the hand following neurologic damage.

Students sought to improve on the current model's affordability and usability; the glove's price tag can be cost-prohibitively high, and some patients have experienced discomfort when wearing it for long periods of time. 

The project gave the students an opportunity to apply their technical skills to a real-life engineering problem. They began by performing initial tests and research on the existing device before tackling two primary concepts: creating an additional device to simplify how the patient puts on the SaeboFlex glove and a radical new design of the device for improved user experience.

“This interdisciplinary project not only encouraged but required outside resources to help us further understand the limitations with this medical device optimization problem,” says Donia Ahmed, a senior biomedical engineering major and one of the project leads. “We reached out to and learned from practicing physical therapists, biomedical engineering and physical therapy faculty at UB and our engineering peers. Ultimately, it was really cool to see how vibrant a project can become when you bring together perspectives from the medical field and the engineering field.”

Picture of a redesigned glove.

Andrew Olewnik, director of experiential learning programs in SEAS and assistant professor in the Department of Engineering Education, connected the BMES group to Saebo and provided helpful resources throughout the process. He offered a project management workshop, which formally introduced team member Lucas Lassinger, a senior biomedical engineering major, to the different phases of an engineering design projects and how to build project timelines. The students were also given access to tinkering modules via UBLearns, giving them the needed foundation in reverse engineering and CAD modeling basics.

“I really enjoyed the ability to work with my peers to implement components of the biomedical engineering curriculum that I had already learned and also to learn new skills such as 3D-printing and CAD modeling,” says Annabella De Faria, a senior biomedical engineering major and project lead. 

CAD design to simplify putting on the glove

Unfortunately, due to current circumstances, the team has not yet been able to formally test their designs. Once they achieve this, they are hopeful that their insights can be incorporated into future Saebo product designs, impacting the user experience of the company’s thousands of customers.

Cianna Currie, a junior biomedical engineering major, says, “I was able to learn more about the rehabilitation side of biomedical engineering, as well as skills in Fusion 360 to bring our ideas to life. Being a part of this diverse team also taught me how to think outside the box more and to challenge existing ideas.”

In addition to Ahmed, Currie, De Faria and Lassinger, the team consisted of Abby Grabowski, Jacqueline Hannon, Seth Lecuyer, Isabelle Linares and Matthew Simkulet.  

To learn more or get involved with the UB Biomedical Engineering Society (BMES) and/or future SaeboFlex collaborations, contact BMES President Donia Ahmed.

Two students in the lab.

In preparation for the SAEBO Glove redesign project, BMES students held a reverse engineering workshop last semester to introduce engineering thinking and product teardown skills.

About the SEAS Intramural Program

The School of Engineering and Applied Sciences Engineering Intramural program sponsors a number of projects each year. The projects are intended to be resume builders and give students an opportunity to apply what they learn to solve a real problem on behalf of a client.

Industry partners, community organizations and faculty/staff/students are encouraged to submit problems for consideration. Learn more about the process here or contact Melinda Somerville, experiential learning business development assistant, to discuss further.