Robotic Brace Characterizes Spine Deformities, Dynamically Adjusts Therapy
Robotic Brace Characterizes Spine Deformities, Dynamically Adjusts Therapy

Engineers at Columbia University have developed a dynamic spine brace, called the Robotic Spine Exoskeleton (RoSE), that can measure the stiffness of the human torso in three dimensions and apply corrective pressure in patients with spine deformities, such as idiopathic scoliosis.

Children with spinal deformities typically wear braces to help correct their abnormal spinal curvature. However, this technology has barely evolved in the last 50 years, and current braces have some limitations. These include discomfort and the inability to adjust the correction provided by the brace, resulting in suboptimal treatment outcomes.

To address these issues, Columbia Engineers have developed the RoSE, a dynamic brace that can characterize the stiffness of the human torso, which could in turn help in designing braces that deliver appropriate levels of corrective pressure where it is most needed.

“To our knowledge, there are no other studies on dynamic braces like ours. Earlier studies used cadavers, which by definition don’t provide a dynamic picture,” said Sunil Agrawal, a researcher involved in the study. “The RoSE is the first device to measure and modulate the position or forces in all six degrees-of-freedom in specific regions of the torso. This study is foundational and we believe will lead to exciting advances both in characterizing and treating spine deformities.”

The brace includes three rings that are situated on the upper-thoracic, mid-thoracic and pelvic spinal regions. A robotic actuator controlled by 12 motors is included in the system. The robot controls the movement of the upper rings and can apply controlled forces on these rings to help correct a spinal curvature, while allowing the patient to move freely in other directions.

“We built upon the principles used in conventional spine braces, i.e., to provide three-point loading at the curve apex using the three rings to snugly fit on the human torso,” said Joon-Hyuk Park, another researcher involved in the study. “In order to characterize the three-dimensional stiffness of the human torso, the RoSE applies six unidirectional displacements in each degree of freedom of the human torso, at two different levels, while simultaneously measuring the forces and moments.”

The research team conducted a pilot study in eight healthy volunteers, and two with a spinal deformity. They found that the RoSE could characterize the stiffness in the human torso, and it demonstrated the differences in stiffness between healthy volunteers and those with spinal deformities.

“Our results open up the possibility for designing spine braces that incorporate patient-specific torso stiffness characteristics,” said one of the principal investigators on the study, David P. Roye. “Our findings could also lead to new interventions using dynamic modulation of three-dimensional forces for spine deformity treatment.”