Biomedical Engineering Blog

Biomedical Engineering

The Biomedical Engineering blog is the place for conversation and discussion about topics related to engineering principles of the medical field. Here, you'll find everything from discussions about emerging medical technologies to advances in medical research. The blog's owner, Chelsey H, is a graduate of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) with a degree in Biomedical Engineering.

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Dynamic Brace for Scoliosis

Posted March 04, 2016 3:42 PM by Chelsey H

Scoliosis is a curvature of the spine that occurs in approximately two to three percent of Americans at age 16. Most scoliosis curves are detected by a child's pediatrician or in a school screening due to clues such as uneven shoulders, a prominent shoulder blade, or a lean to one side. An x-ray is needed to confirm the diagnosis and the severity of the spinal curve.

Currently, the treatment for scoliosis is wearing a static brace when the spinal curve is between 25 to 40 degrees. This stops the progression of the curve and may provide a temporary correction, but usually the curve will assume its original magnitude when bracing is eliminated. For those who have more severe curves from 40 to 50 degrees, the treatment is scoliosis surgery. Surgery is done to make sure the curve does not get worse using metallic implants, but it does not perfectly straighten the spine and usually a brace still needs to be worn.

Image Credit: Spectrum IEEE

Researchers at Columbia's School of Engineering have created a smart exoskeleton which they hope will replace the static brace. The exoskeleton bends and moves with the patient's body, while exerting targeted force on the affected areas of the spine. This will allow patients to bend, twist, and do a variety of activities while still experiencing the benefits of treatment.

The brace is composed of three levels with six linear actuators that are connected to four sensors at the base of each motor. The motors are equipped with motion sensors. The researchers are able to set each of the three levels to be positioned in different displacements and measure how much force is being exerted on the body.

This provides a big advantage in terms of the data the researchers are able to collect. Current x-rays provide no way of knowing what's going on, but the dynamic brace is able to provide clues about how the patient's spine is responding to treatments and give physicians insight on what to do next.

Researchers are still testing another use for the brace, which is to be able to measure the "stiffness" of a patient's spine which may help in earlier and more accurate diagnosis.

Click the link here to watch the exoskeleton brace in action.

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