Easing Hand Grips and Perfecting Needle Insertions

8/2 Pratt School of Engineering

Two First-Year Design engineering student teams received $5,000 grants from the VentureWell E-Team Program to further develop projects designed in class

Easing Hand Grips and Perfecting Needle Insertions

Two teams of students from Duke Engineering’s First-Year Design Program were awarded $5,000 grants from the VentureWell E-Team program. Duke is the only school represented by two teams in the first phase of the VentureWell grant program, the Pioneer cohort.

In the First-Year Design program (EGR 101), teams of students work with real clients to design and build prototype solutions to their problems. If successful, some projects will continue to be developed in EGR 102. If a particular project continues to show promise and has commercial potential, instructors often encourage teams to submit their work to the VentureWell E-Team program, which helps student inventors bring their projects to life through grant funding, networking events and feedback from industry experts.

“We’re always so impressed with what our First-Year Design teams are able to accomplish, and having them earn funding from an outside source is incredibly exciting and rewarding for everyone involved,” said Ann Saterbak, director of the Duke First-Year Design. “Having not one but two teams earn places in the VentureWell E-Team program goes to show how impactful engineers can be from day one of their education.”

A photo of a blue cylindrical piece of blue plastic next to a photo of that device wrapped around a white medical instrument with a doctor holding onto it

ProbeMate: Easing Hand Grips for Sonographers

Students Hannah Mekaru, Amari Crittenden and Chandler Wimmer were approached by the Duke Perinatal Clinic and a local physical therapist about a problem facing sonographers – musculoskeletal disorders in the workers’ hands. The slick, hard plastic design of ultrasound probes forces sonographers to hold the pincer grip (think of pulling a single rock out of a pile of pebbles) position for long periods of time.

“These scans can last for over an hour and you have to apply a lot of pressure,” Wimmer said. “When holding that really awkward hand position, it can cause workplace injury down the line.”

According to the Society of Diagnostic Medical Sonography, 90% of sonographers across all specialties have reported work-related musculoskeletal disorders in the past decade. The team’s solution is an ergonomically designed grip cover called the ProbeMate that helps to alleviate the strain commonly associated with forceful pincer grips.

“These scans can last for over an hour and you have to apply a lot of pressure. When holding that really awkward hand position, it can cause workplace injury down the line.”

chandler wimmer

“We designed a grip cover that can go over the handle of different ultrasound probes to widen the grip to make it more comfortable while increasing friction and the ability to grasp,” Mekaru said.

The slip-free, textured silicon grip for the ultrasound probes expands the palmar grasp (think of holding a baseball to throw it), which is a more comfortable hand position for the sonographers. Size variations are also available for neonatal and pediatric sonographers working with smaller instruments.

“The big idea behind the palmar grasp is that it allows you to use larger muscle groups, so it’s much easier to hold, especially for long periods of time,” Wimmer said.

The team has received positive feedback from sonographers across various specialties. They have worked closely with Duke Health and are now working on outreach and expanding their network to clinics all across the country. The money from the grant also helps the team work toward mass production of the ProbeMate and purchasing manufacturing supplies so that they can ship samples to prospective clients. 

A fake plastic arm from the elbow down next to a gray box

Pulse Mate: Perfecting the Art of Needle Insertion

Students Ryan Blue, Ayush Gupta, Christopher Wyrtzen and Nicholas Trigger were initially approached by the Duke Simulation Lab, a division in the Duke University Medical System that runs training devices. The problem the team faced was limited practice for physicians in pulsatile arterial line insertions, which give access to arterial blood pumping through patients’ wrists. These line insertions are used to continuously measure the blood pressure of patients during medical procedures. The procedure involves puncturing the radial artery and then threading a catheter into the artery.. 

The procedure is invasive, and inaccurate insertions can lead to complications such as pain, swelling and thrombosis. Despite the gravity of the situation, in a study of 357 incoming interns at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital, only a little over one-third reported receiving training in arterial line insertion while averaging only one attempted arterial line insertion during medical school between them. 

“We worked with doctors and the head of anesthesiology at Duke Health, and they said that they have whole days where residents are only doing that one procedure,” Blue said. “So this really affects a ton of people.”

“We worked with doctors and the head of anesthesiology at Duke Health, and they said that they have whole days where residents are only doing that one procedure. So this really affects a ton of people.”

ryan blue

Repeated inaccurate insertions can be very uncomfortable for patients. 

“The biggest goal is just making patients feel comfortable, as well as increasing the confidence of doctors, residents and nurses to do this procedure,” Blue said. “And to do it well.”

Practice devices for this procedure can range from anywhere between $700 and $3,500. But it doesn’t end at upfront costs, as they are also expensive to upkeep and maintain. 

Aside from the cost, existing training devices are limited. Most require a second person to manually simulate the radial artery pulse by squeezing the device. They also often have marks leftover from previous successful punctures, allowing the physician to locate the artery by sight instead of feel, which is not how they do it in the field.

“This engineering project has truly been a one-of-a-kind experience, I have learned how the power of collaboration and innovation can genuinely impact the healthcare industry.”

Ayush Gupta

The team’s solution is a new practice device called the Pulse Mate. The Pulse Mate closely replicates the look and feel of a human arm to provide realistic practice for arterial line insertion. The device can be operated by a single person due to electronic pulse simulation. The practice device allows the user to thread the guide wire present in catheters into an artificial artery. The catheter also draws blood into its canal, replicating what actually happens in the procedure, so physicians can practice the entire procedure, not just the insertion.

The Pulse Mate has durable replaceable skin wraps that last for over 300 punctures. It is also cost effective and can be sold for $200 less than the most popular arterial line insertion training device on the market.

“We’re always so impressed with what our First-Year Design teams are able to accomplish, and having them earn funding from an outside source is incredibly exciting and rewarding for everyone involved. “Having not one but two teams earn places in the VentureWell E-Team program goes to show how impactful engineers can be from day one of their education.”

Ann Saterbak

Two of the teammates from both ProbeMate and Pulse Mate will travel to VentureWell’s Pioneer Workshop in late July to receive feedback and advice while networking with industry professionals. The teammates will learn about the next steps needed to complete and commercialize their products to make it available to a wide range of medical professionals and institutions. 

The teams will return to campus this fall to update their products and address feedback they receive before applying for second grants from VentureWell that would help fund additional work on the devices and possibly obtain patents.

“This engineering project has truly been a one-of-a-kind experience, I have learned how the power of collaboration and innovation can genuinely impact the healthcare industry,” said Ayush Gupta, Pulse Mate team member. “As we were leaving for summer break, we had no idea about the future of our project. With the upcoming conference in Boston, I know our team is ready to push boundaries and make a lasting impact.”