Hands-on relief from carpal tunnel syndrome

RICE (US)—A device that measures intrinsic hand muscle strength may revolutionize the diagnosis and treatment of hand injuries and neurological disorders, specifically carpal tunnel syndrome.

“Twenty percent of all ER admissions are hand-related,” says Shuai Xu, member of a team of bioengineering students at Rice University that developed the device. “Neuromuscular disorders like spinal cord injuries, Lou Gehrig’s, diabetes, multiple sclerosis—all these diseases affect the intrinsic hand muscles.”

Xu says the device can be used in the treatment of carpal tunnel syndrome, from diagnosis to outcome. “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.”

A central problem with existing strength tests, Xu explains, is they are usually done by feel—a patient is asked to push one way and then the other. There is a lack of repeatability, and tests don’t take into consideration small or unusually shaped hands.

The students’ device, PRIME, or Peg Restrained Intrinsic Muscle Evaluator, is intended to fill that gap using three elements: a pegboard restraint, a force transducer enclosure, and a PDA that is 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,” says team member Matthew Miller.

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 says, allowing the doctor to create a patient-specific file.

PRIME integrates with existing systems in a manner compliant with the Health Information Portability and Accountability Act, better known as HIPAA.

Xu hopes the device 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 says.

The team is now 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 the Methodist Hospital and Shriners Hospital for Children.

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