Rutgers Students Invent Medical Devices for Disabled Children and Adults

Two summers ago, biomedical engineering students at Rutgers University–New Brunswick immersed themselves at Matheny in Peapack, New Jersey, a nonprofit organization that is home to scores of children and adults with cerebral palsy, spina bifida and other developmental disabilities. The students’ goal: find ways to improve their independence and quality of life.

After talking with Matheny staffers and students, the Rutgers students designed prototypes that were demonstrated there last spring. The reaction was very positive.

“I was just amazed with what they’ve come up with so far,” said Lawrence R. Thornton, a Matheny trustee who recommended partnering with Rutgers.

One student team created a motorized headrest for wheelchairs to give people with cerebral palsy a greater range of vision and reduce their reliance on caretakers. Another team created adjustable lateral support arms to give patients greater mobility with their bodies. A third team created a self-sterilizing intravenous pole for wheelchairs that is safe and retractable. It includes a cover with LED lights that emit ultraviolet light to kill bacteria. At present, nurses must repeatedly wipe down wheelchairs to ensure sterility, and IV pole hooks pose safety hazards for patients and nurses.

“The students did a tremendous amount of work and I’m very impressed with the prototypes. I definitely think all three projects have the potential to advance,” said Kristen S. Labazzo, an assistant professor of practice in biomedical engineering and executive director of the Medical Device Development Center in the School of Engineering. “Most of these students become biomedical engineers because they want to help people. That’s really the essence of being a biomedical engineer, and this program is the epitome of that.”

Jay C. Sy, an assistant professor of biomedical engineering and senior design program leader, said “I think it’s great that the students have a real life experience and are able to identify a problem and a solution themselves.”

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