19:36 PM

Lending a Helping Hand

Pitt bioengineering undergraduates create a device to ease donning of medical gloves


Undergraduate students in a bioengineering design course at the University of Pittsburgh Swanson School of Engineering were tasked with identifying and innovating solutions to unmet clinical needs. From brainstorming to prototyping and testing, teams designed original medical products and applied to competitions to showcase their efforts.

A team of students, including Emily Himelrick, Klaire Dickey, Rachel Lau, Seth Queen, Simon Shenk, Michael Shulock, Christopher Snodgrass, and Katherine Stevenson, were accepted to the ASAIO Student Design Competition — and clinched first place — for a project aimed to alleviate a simple but prevalent issue for medical professionals.

“I asked my mom, a registered nurse, and my roommates who recently graduated from Pitt's nursing program to tell me about problems they encounter during their shifts,” said Himelrick. “A common complaint was the difficulty of donning gloves, especially with damp or wet hands. They noted that the issue was exacerbated in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic given the increase in required sanitization and personal protective equipment.”

The design team took this feedback and began brainstorming potential solutions to ease the difficulty of donning gloves. Latex- and hydrogel-coated gloves are two existing alternatives to this issue — both absorb excess moisture and allow for easier donning, but these options also have their limitations.

“Latex gloves are useful, but they’re rarely the supply of choice due to the prevalence of latex allergies,” Himelrick added. “The powder-free hydrogel coated gloves are also effective but cost significantly more than the typical nitrile examination gloves.” 

Users often wear larger gloves or apply two to each hand to combat this common issue, but these approaches are wasteful and compromise dexterity. According to the team’s research, the most common method to ease glove donning is to cup the opening and blow into it; however, even this simple method is not practical because it can spread germs from the mouth and is not feasible while wearing masks.

For their project, they mimicked this simple, reliable method and created a device that circulates air through a glove, making it easier to quickly slip onto one’s hand. For the mechanism, they tested manual devices like inflator bulbs, foot pumps, and cans of compressed air and also tried powered devices, including an air compressor and a linear actuator. 

Glove donning demonstration

“Ultimately, we decided to use a linear actuator coupled with a syringe to create air pressure used to inflate the glove,” Himelrick explained. “The user simply places a glove over a funnel, which acts as an interface between the device and the glove.”

The team iterated through several 3-D printed funnel designs that would fit every glove size and simplify user interaction with the device.

“Our final design proved successful in the verification and validation testing conducted by the design team as well as nursing students and faculty at Pitt,” Himelrick said. “The design, although relatively simple, is innovative in its function and purpose, so the team is in the process of acquiring a provisional patent for our product. This experience has been incredibly rewarding and we were thrilled to present at the ASAIO Conference in June.”