Researchers recently received a $1 million grant from the National Science Foundation’s National Robotics Initiative to develop a dynamic spine brace for children with scoliosis.
According to a press release, the dynamic brace allows more flexibility than a rigid brace, enabling its wearer to move while still applying corrective forces to the spine’s abnormal curve.
“Every year, 30,000 children use a rigid brace to treat scoliosis, while 38,000 patients undergo spinal fusion surgery, so this award will make a big difference,” Sunil Agrawal, PhD, professor of mechanical engineering and of rehabilitation and regenerative medicine at Columbia Engineering, said in the release. “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.”
Source: Nisselson J, Columbia Engineering
Agrawal is designing the brace alongside collaborators David P. Roye, Jr., MD, St. Giles Foundation Professor of Pediatric Orthopedic Surgery at the Columbia University Medical Center (CUMC) and Charles J. Kim, PhD, professor of mechanical engineering at Bucknell University.
Agrawal and colleagues are attempting to overcome the limitations of rigid braces, which can limit movement and make the wearer feel “frozen,” leading children to avoid wearing them.
The researchers already have created prototype wearable spine braces made of rings that fit on the wearer’s torso and are dynamically actuated by servomotors placed on adjacent rings. The servomotors can control the force or position the brace applies to the body. Data is recorded via onboard sensors, which transmit information on force and motion to a host monitor so that treatment can be monitored and adjusted.
They also developed a fully passive brace made of compliant components to adjust stiffness.
Both braces have down sides, though; the dynamic brace must be connected to 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,” Agrawal said in the release. “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.”
The researchers will test their three braces on children with scoliosis at CUMC.
“Scoliosis impacts the quality of life of those affected, limiting their activity, causing pain, and diminishing their self-esteem,” Agrawal said. “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.”