A Kennesaw State University engineering professor and her team of students have developed a new finger support that could ultimately help those suffering from finger deformities regain motor function.
Simin Nasseri, who teaches mechanical engineering in the Southern Polytechnic College of Engineering and Engineering Technology, said finger deformation is very common among people who struggle with arthritis, Dupuytren’s contracture and mallet finger, among other ailments. While there are supports available to help slow the onset of finger deformation, the devices had limited capabilities that rendered them unwieldy and uncomfortable, according to Nasseri. Additionally, many supports cannot be adjusted to fit different finger sizes and positions.
Armed with extensive experience in biomedical and manufacturing engineering, and with several family members and friends who have finger deformities, Nasseri said she was inspired to develop an improved finger support that would allow others to tackle daily tasks more freely. With the help of students, and after several months of research and mechanical testing, she has created a composite support with a soft polymer shell and a thin aluminum, steel or carbon fiber sheet running the length of the apparatus to provide rigidity. The shell was printed entirely in KSU’s 3D Center and the sheet was cut in the machine shop just across the hall in the University’s Engineering Technology Center.
“Our support was designed to be used in ‘functional positions,’ meaning that you are able to slip it over your finger and perform normal tasks with your hands without difficulty,” said Nasseri, who will be completing the project this semester alongside student Shanice White. “Our final design is very durable and allows for a wide range of finger positions in order to maximize function.”
Nasseri started by conceptualizing designs of her own and soon began to recruit some of her undergraduate students in order to introduce them to the intricacies of engineering research. Since spring 2017, five students have played roles in writing literature reviews, perfecting the design, running simulations, fabricating and conducting mechanical testing on the finger support. As a team, they have co-authored two journal papers and presented their findings at a regional conference. White, who is conducting a directed study with Nasseri this semester, will complete further testing and hopes to present her discoveries at the National Conference on Undergraduate Research to be held at KSU in April.
In a similar project, Nasseri and two additional students have conducted research on a foot support for bunion deformity using the same concepts. Though the finger and foot supports are still under development, the team hopes to obtain patents for their designs and bring it to market.
“This has been an excellent way for me to introduce our students to research and offer them a glimpse into the complete design and manufacturing processes,” Nasseri said. “This is an opportunity outside of the classroom where they can apply what they’ve learned on something tangible and ensure that it works as designed.”
Kyle Castellano, who served as student lead prior to graduating with a degree in mechanical engineering technology, said his experience working on the project is what ultimately guided him toward graduate school. Under Nasseri’s purview, he conducted computer simulations to test the feasibility of the design before it was printed.
“I’m always grateful that she was able to take me under her wing and introduce me to engineering research,” said Castellano, who is now a graduate research assistant at Auburn University. “My goal always has been to attend grad school, and I don’t think I could have made it without Dr. Nasseri’s guidance.”
Another alumnus, Mushfequr Kotwal, said the research project opened his eyes to a wide range of engineering applications.
“The use of engineering to create medical devices really appealed to me, so I immediately sought out Dr. Nasseri to see how I could get involved,” said Kotwal, who graduated in Dec. 2017 with a mechanical engineering degree. “Over the course of the project, I felt like I obtained a great deal of critical thinking skills. My biggest takeaway, however, was learning how to conduct high quality research and publish papers.”