Robotic Spine Promises New Treatments for Spinal Deformities
Matthew Greenwood posted on April 17, 2018 |
Exoskeleton measures and corrects spinal movement and development.

For 50 years, treatment for children suffering from spinal deformities has been the same: wear a stiff, uncomfortable spine brace. That may be about to change thanks to the invention of a new robotic spine.

The Robotic Spine Exoskeleton (RoSE) is a dynamic brace that measures and adjusts the curvature of the spine. Developed by engineering researchers at Columbia University, the device may lead to new treatments for conditions such as idiopathic scoliosis and kyphosis, also known as hunchback.

(Image courtesy of Sunil Agrawal/Columbia Engineering.)
(Image courtesy of Sunil Agrawal/Columbia Engineering.)

The RoSE consists of three rings placed on the torso at the pelvis, mid thoracic area and upper thoracic area. The motion of two adjacent rings is controlled by a parallel-actuated robot that can move in six degrees of motion. This allows RoSE to apply controlled and corrective forces on the spine in specific directions, while still allowing free motion in other directions.

(Image courtesy of Sunil Agrawal/Columbia Engineering.)
(Image courtesy of Sunil Agrawal/Columbia Engineering.)

“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, the lead author of the RoSE pilot study.

The RoSE was tested on both healthy males and males with spine deformities. The brace was used to control the position and orientation of specific sections of the subjects’ torsos while measuring the forces exerted on the subjects’ spines.

This resulted in a detailed and dynamic three-dimensional map of the human spine. This is a significant breakthrough—earlier studies of the spine used cadavers, which do not provide a dynamic picture of the spine’s movement and ability to manage pressure.

“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,” said the study’s principal investigator, Sunil Agrawal, a professor of mechanical engineering as well as rehabilitation and regenerative medicine at Columbia University. The RoSE was developed in Agrawal’s Robotics and Rehabilitation (ROAR) Laboratory.

The robotic spine promises to vastly improve on existing braces used to retard the progression of abnormal spine curves in children and adolescents. Current braces are rigid, static and uncomfortable to wear. They also are unable to control the correction they provide, making it difficult to adapt them to changes in the torso over the course of treatment, which renders them less effective over time.

David Roye Jr., spine surgeon and professor at Columbia University, said the study opens up the possibility of “designing spine braces that incorporate patient-specific torso stiffness characteristics… Our findings could also lead to new interventions using dynamic modulation of three-dimensional forces for spine deformity treatment.”

For more on medical exoskeleton technology, check out Robotic Exoskeleton and Virtual Reality Help Paraplegics to Walk.


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