Ryan Wade, a five-year-old from Northampton, was recently featured in a story on WGGB-TV 40 about how a team of UMass Amherst students from the Mechanical and Industrial Engineering (MIE) Department and College of Nursing helped him by designing a mechanical arm to aid with routine tasks such as feeding himself. Ryan has a condition that doesn’t allow him to bend his arms, so the four engineering students and one nursing student created the mechanical arm with help from faculty members. The team is made up of MIE seniors Brian Cormier, Andrew Friedlieb, Catherine Paquin, and Kyle Morrell, and School of Nursing student Emily Gardner. Watch WGGB-TV 40 video.

On December 5, 2013, the student team also won the MIE 415 Senior Capstone Design end-of-semester poster contest with their robotic arm to improve the quality of life for children with Ryan’s condition, Pediatric Multiple Synostosis Syndrome, a rare genetic disorder characterized by multiple bone fusions involving the face, limbs, and middle ear.

The capstone team was assisted by a portion of the recent $125,000 grant from the National Science Foundation to enable “Integrative Capstone Design Experiences for Engineering and Nursing Students,” awarded in 2013 to MIE Professors Frank Sup and Sundar Krishnamurty, who teach the MIE 415 course. Professor Cynthia Jacelon of the UMass College of Nursing also collaborated on the grant proposal.

Ryan is unable to perform many activities of daily life without the assistance of special devices or caregivers. The MIE capstone team created an extremely light, durable, flexible, and adaptable actuating arm which allows Ryan independently to adjust his glasses, wipe his mouth with a napkin, feed himself, and potentially carry out other tasks that were previously not possible for the boy without assistance from caregivers.

Read the transcript of the Channel 40 news report:

UMASS Students Help 5-Year-Old with Rare Condition

February 26th, 2014

AMHERST, Mass. (WGGB) – A group project at UMASS Amherst proved that problem solving skills and hands-on learning can make a difference. In fact, after students heard about a Northampton boy who can’t bend his arms, they went to work and created a device to help.

“Yeah, you take the food and put it up one,” said Karen Wade, mother of five-year-old Ryan Wade.

Ryan was feeding himself an afternoon snack, a task he never before could accomplish on his own. But this time, he used his brand new robotic arm.

“Now I can eat with this arm,” he said.

Ryan is one of a thousand in the country with a condition called “Radio Humeral Fusion.” It means he can’t bend his arms at all.

“[It] makes basic skills like eating, brushing his teeth, and washing his face very difficult,” said Frank Sup, a Mechanical Engineer Professor at UMASS.

A group of five UMASS students created the orthotic device during a semester-long project. They met with Ryan and his family to understand his disability and learn the challenges faced on a day-to-day basis.

“We take mechanical engineering students and pair them with nursing students and connect them with real world problems,” said Sup.

This robotic arm was designed and created at a new innovation shop at UMASS. Little did the students know that before graduation they would change a life.

“It gave them motivation when things got tough, meeting with Ryan seeing the smiles,” said Sup.

The device is additional support for Ryan to be independent. Nothing holds him back; he can eat, draw, dance and do everything with his peers. He’s proud of his mechanical arm and all of his abilities.

Ryan’s condition cannot be corrected by surgery and his entire family is thankful for the work of the students under the director of Professor Frank Sup. (March 2014)