Stroke, also known as “brain attack,” is among the leading causes of long-term disability and mortality worldwide. Anyone can be at risk of a stroke, although it mostly affects older adults.
In the Philippines, stroke survivors may struggle to regain their vitality due to damage in their central nervous system, which generally leads to poor quality of life. It becomes important to seek rehabilitation services and assistive devices in order to fast-track the healing process.
Recently, as a thesis project, three electronic engineering students of the Technological Institute of the Philippines (TIP) in Quezon City produced their version of a therapy glove for recovering stroke patients. They called their device “HandMATE.”
The team, known as “RAD Tech”—Joanna Keith Ildefonso, Orwell Orit and Liezl Lalaine Patrimonio, all now graduates—presented the framework for their innovation in a 36-page study titled “Design of an Actuation System for String Hand Rehabilitation Device Using a Cable-Driven Actuator.”
‘Best Project of the Year’
TIP Quezon City eventually selected HandMATE as its official entry to the 2023 Innovation Awards sponsored by the Bank of the Philippine Islands (BPI) Foundation Inc. and the Department of Science and Technology (DOST), where it was named “Best Project of the Year.”
RAD Tech added basic elements from the internet of things (IoT) in their version of a therapy glove. They collaborated with stroke patients and medical professionals at the Veterans Memorial Medical Center in gathering essential data to produce a functional prototype.
“This device stands out for its capacity to facilitate both passive and active exercises, prioritizing rehabilitation, integrating IoT-based control and data retention functionalities,” they said in their research study.
RAD Tech aimed to make “HandMATE” convenient for potential users by enabling wireless communication to collect, analyze, process, and transmit reliable information from the device itself to a mobile application. This makes it easy for the patient to monitor recovery progress even at home.
The team turned to readily available parts and materials in building the prototype. They used a NodeMCU (microcontroller unit) and Arduino Nano breadboard as monitoring, control, and data acquisition system tools.
For the specialized glove, they applied a flex sensor and force-sensitive resistor linked to the other internal components of the machine and the stepper motor to support the execution of prescribed rehabilitation exercises.
The data from the sensors are then sent to a cloud database hosted by HiveMQ, a software company based in Germany, to facilitate message queuing telemetry transport, or the data exchange protocol for IoT messaging.
Said RAD Tech: “The HandMATE has been specifically designed to address the extended healing period associated with hand rehabilitation, a process influenced by limited blood circulation.” They said it also relies on the tendency of the nerves to eventually recover from injuries through “neuroplasticity,”
The National Library of Medicine defines “neuroplasticity” as the ability of the nervous system to change its activity in response to intrinsic or extrinsic stimuli by reorganizing its structure, functions, or connections after a stroke or other types of traumatic brain injuries.
“By leveraging neuroplasticity, [HandMATE] aims to reestablish connections between nerve cells, restore lost motor skills, and meticulously monitor the healing progress, thereby contributing to an enhanced quality of life for post-stroke patients,” the team said.
RAD Tech developed the device with the help of batchmate Keanu Readova, who worked mostly behind the scenes. John Joel Martinez, TIP Quezon City engineering faculty member, advised and guided them through the engineering design process.
It took the team more than two semesters between August 2022 and July 2023 to complete the prototype, according to Orit. Martinez attributed the team’s success to the functionality of their therapy glove. Patrimonio said they tested their prototype on an elderly patient, as recommended by the experts who validated their research.
Additionally, the team sought the opinions of medical professionals such as physical and occupational therapists, prosthetics and orthosis experts, and post-stroke patients to improve and complete the design of HandMATE.
“By word of mouth, people have been showing interest in our device/prototype,” Patrimonio said.
RAD Tech accepted their innovation award in a ceremony held at the Makati Diamond Residences last Dec. 11. Present at the ceremony were BPI Foundation Inc. chair Gerardo Albaza Jr. and DOST Undersecretary for Research and Development Dr. Leah Buendia.