By: 27 November 2015
Dynamic braces in development for children with scoliosis

Dynamic braces in development for children with scoliosis

A team of scientists in the USA is working to develop a groundbreaking dynamic spinal brace to treat children with scoliosis without limiting upper body movement. The team hope to create a brace that is more flexible than the rigid devices currently in use but which can nevertheless apply the corrective forces required to correct the abnormal posture changes along the length of the spine. Their work is so promising that they have just won a $1 million grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF)’s National Robotics Initiative.

“If we can design a flexible brace that modulates the corrective forces on the spine in desired directions while still allowing the users to perform typical everyday activities, we will bring revolutionary change to the field,” said Sunil Agrawal, professor of mechanical engineering and of rehabilitation and regenerative medicine at Columbia Engineering.

Agrawal and his collaborators – David Roye, St Giles Foundation professor of pediatric orthopedic surgery at the Columbia University Medical Center, and Charles Kim, professor of mechanical engineering at Bucknell University – have already developed prototype wearable spine braces that consist of rings that fit on the human torso. These rings are dynamically actuated by servomotors placed on adjacent rings to control the force or position applied on the human body. Onboard sensors record the force and motion data and transmit the information to a host computer for monitoring and adjusting the treatment. The team has also developed a second brace that is fully passive, made of compliant components able to adjust stiffness in specific directions. However, both these braces have drawbacks. The dynamic brace needs an active power source while the passive brace cannot provide active controls.

“While we are the first group to propose parallel-actuated spine braces and compliant braces, these are just in initial phases,” explained Agrawal. “What we will do, thanks to the NSF award, is to design hybrid semi-active spine braces that combine the merits of the two. These will be less power- hungry and can be worn over a longer duration of time.”

Preliminary experiments have already started to characterise the feasibility of the dynamic braces on healthy subjects with normal spines to identify the body’s stiffness in different directions during activities of daily living.

“Scoliosis impacts the quality of life of those affected, limiting their activity, causing pain, and diminishing their self-esteem,” Agrawal added. “We expect our work will transform treatment due to the ability of the brace to modulate force or position at specific locations of the spine and will greatly improve the quality of life for children with this debilitating condition.”

Source: Columbia University

Picture caption: Sensors record the force and motion data and transmit the information to a computer for monitoring and treatment in this prototype wearable spine brace.

Credit: Jane Nisselson/Columbia Engineering