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Oct. 27, 2014

CSU graduate student pairs with Cleveland Clinic for research

By Dan Levindofske

Students often know what it is like to spend hours writing papers, leaving their hands and wrists sore. For some, it may feel like the onset of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome.

Carpal Tunnel Syndrome is the squeezing of the median nerve at the wrist, which is caused by pressure on the median nerve, according to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.

This is something that students and non-students alike would like to avoid, but in order to prevent or correct it, there must be a greater understanding of the structure itself.

The carpal tunnel is precisely what Joseph Gabra, a fifth-year graduate student at Cleveland State University, is researching.

“I don’t focus on the disease, I focus on more the mechanics of the wrist, which will help,” Gabra said.

“Our whole lab is focused on finding a noninvasive treatment for Carpal Tunnel Syndrome. So to know how to optimize that treatment, we need to really understand the structure and the mechanics and how everything works.”

Gabra is doing his dissertation on carpal stiffness and joint mobility. He does so by manipulating the bones of cadavers to study their rotation.

“I measure the stiffness of the bones but as a whole structure,” Gabra said. “Stiffness is essentially a relationship of force over displacement, and that’s pretty much what this project is about.”

He can then use the measurements to create a 3D model on a computer to simulate actual stiffness. The problem with models is they vary depending on what you’re looking for, much like carpals vary from individual to individual.

“When you’re dealing with a model there’s no right answer,” Gabra said. “You have limitations with a model — so it’s not the say all — but it can at least point you in the right direction.”

Although models can’t give Gabra specific answers, they are necessary to use in case of extreme stiffness.

“If there’s high joint pressure or high ligament stress that’s not something that we want to do to [test on] a human being,” Gabra said. “So we’re using the model to refine and define which ways we can manipulate that are going to be the safest.”

Gabra is doing his research in conjunction with the Cleveland Clinic, where he is part of a team headed by Dr. Zong-Ming Li.

“It’s a lot of fun, especially with Dr. Li,” Gabra said. “He’s given me numerous opportunities and learning experiences that not many other people have during their graduate studies.”

Li has had an enormous impact on Gabra, whom he looks at as his mentor in the field for giving him both knowledge and opportunity.

“It really is hard describe,” Gabra said. “He’s helped me out a lot, to the point where I think I’ve learned above and beyond what other people can learn. I’m still learning, obviously, and I’m just so grateful for all his advice and mentorship he’s given me.”

As for his research with the Cleveland Clinic, Gabra feels that it is a unique opportunity, one which he has been enjoying.

“Working at the Clinic has been great,” Gabra said. “I mean you only get to work at the Clinic so often.”

Gabra is graduate of Case Western Reserve University with a degree in biomedical engineering and is currently going for a doctorate in biomedical engineering through the Washkewicz College of Engineering, which he thinks highly of.

“It’s a great program,” Gabra said. “If anyone is interested they should come by the department and talk to people there.”