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November 17, 2017

Bioengineering majors give boy helping hand by design

FGCU students are always ready to lend a hand — or even build a better one, as is the case with a research project in the U.A. Whitaker College of Engineering.

A team of FGCU bioengineering majors working with Dr. Derek Lura, assistant professor, has been helping an 8-year-old North Fort Myers boy by constructing and refining a prosthetic device for his left hand that they created with a three-dimensional printer.

Anthony Grippo and Korin Kirkpatrick. Above: The Raptor Reloaded is the model that FGCU bioengineering students used to mold their prototype; a prosthetic finger made from 3-D printed plastic molds.

In fact, two of the students — senior bioengineering majors Anthony Grippo of Bonita Springs and Korin Kirkpatrick of Cape Coral — presented the results of their work Oct. 11-14 at the annual Biomedical Engineering Society meeting in Phoenix.

“The presentation was on the institutional review board-approved study we conducted with our prosthetic hand prototype, and we were able to conclude that the opposable thumb and polymer fingertips added 15 percent more functionality to our device, which is great news for James,” Grippo said, referring to James “Jimmy” Tillman, the boy the FGCU team has been working with. “We were able to show off our device during the conference, and also network.”

“We are continuing to run design renditions on the prototype, and ideally, we want to see an 85 to 95 percent completion rate in the SHAP (Southhampton Hand Assessment Procedure) test before we can conclude the prototype is ready to be released to the online community,” Grippo continued. The SHAP is a clinically validated hand function test that was developed to assess the effectiveness of upper-limb prostheses.

“Additionally, for my senior project, I am working on delivering a myoelectric (using electric motors) version of this prosthetic,” Grippo added.

The Tillmans became involved with the FGCU project when their family doctor put them in touch with Lura after the boy said he wanted to try a 3-D hand.

“While working on the prosthetic hand, I have noticed there are many factors contributing to the ability of the human hand to grip various objects,” Kirkpatrick said. “After my teammates and I redesigned the hand and printed several versions of it, I found myself surprised by the capabilities of the 3-D printer. It’s capable of building pieces that are more detailed and complex than I expected.”

In summarizing the project for their poster presentation, Grippo and Kirkpatrick wrote:

This 3-D printer produces the plastic parts that engineers assemble into the prosthetic hand.

“We used the Raptor Reloaded as our base design and discovered that while it was aesthetically pleasing, it lacked functionality. (Note: The Raptor Reloaded is an updated version of the Raptor Hand, designed to be compatible with numerous computer-aided design packages as a contribution to the e-NABLE project — an initiative of engineers and designers who use 3-D printers to create free, 3-D-printed hands and arms for those in need of an upper-limb assistive device.)

“The FGCU prototype of the Raptor Reloaded started out by adjusting the angle of the thumb to 30 degrees clockwise from the vertical axis running along the second phalange. We continued receiving input from our client, James, and incorporated more features to meet his needs. These features include adding a locking mechanism that allows James to relax his wrist and continue holding various objects. In order to expand the types of objects he could hold, we added a polymer mold to the fingertips. We also created a more flexible and slim gauntlet to allow for a better fit around the forearm. … Our testing participants and James have indicated that the features of the FGCU prototype have improved the functionality and comfort of the Raptor Reloaded.

“The end goal of this research is to redistribute these optimized files to the online prosthetics community. As this is an ongoing study, there are still many facets that need to be improved. There are also plans to create 3-D printed prosthetic hands that are specialized for certain functions, such as (swinging a baseball bat) and swimming.”

Grippo said the aspect of the project he enjoys most is that “we work directly with our client to hopefully give him something special. I really enjoy that I am allowed to be as creative as I want in designing our prototypes, while at the same time deliver a prosthesis that will allow James to do all the things I used to love doing as a kid. It brings joy to my heart knowing that James will be able to ride a bike from the hard work we are putting forth.

“If there’s one thing I’ve learned from this project, it’s that designers and engineers in particular need to imagine being in their patients’ shoes to create a truly robust user experience,” Grippo said.

Although James — or “Jimmy,” as he’s known to family and friends — says the 3-D prosthetic hand is “new and unusual,” he especially likes “getting to tell them what to fix, and they listen.”

“I like that they take Jimmy’s input into consideration in their build and redesign,” said his mother, Tina Tillman. “Having the opinion of a person who is actually using the prosthesis can greatly add to the functionality. For Jimmy, I feel the best part is to possibly make tasks easier and to improve his muscles on the affected arm. The final design ultimately may not be right for Jimmy to use every day, but my hope is that by him working with the FGCU team, it can help another amputee when the team has the final design.”