New Robotic Spine Exoskeleton (RoSE) Could Help Treat Spine Deformities

  • RoSE is a dynamic spine brace that characterizes the 3 dimensional stiffness of the human torso. 
  • It identifies and treats spinal deformities.
  • The system consists of 12-degree-of-freedom supervised via 12 motors.

Spinal deformities, like kyphosis and idiopathic scoliosis, are abnormalities of formation and alignment of the curvature in the spine. There are more than 4 million cases of scoliosis in the US alone.

Patients suffering from these deformities, especially children, are advised to wear a brace that fits around the hips and torso to diminish the abnormal curve. This prevents the abnormal progression of spine, which may ultimately lead to surgery. It’s quite surprising that bracing techniques haven’t been much improved over the last 5 decades.

Although bracing could stop the development of irregular curvature in the spine, it has several limitations because of their static, rigid and bulky designs. They’re uncomfortable to wear and could even result in skin breakdown because of prolonged and excessive force.

Now, researchers at Columbia Engineering have invented a new technology that may solve the limitations of existing bracing techniques. It’s called RoSE – short for Robotic Spine Exoskeleton. It’s a dynamic spine brace that characterizes the 3 dimensional stiffness of the human torso.

According to the researchers, RoSE will lead to identifying and treating spinal deformities. It may tell which patients (children and teenagers) can be potentially benefited from spine braces and avoid surgery.

How RoSE Works?

Robotic Spine ExoskeletonCredit: Sunil Agrawal / Columbia Engineering

The instrument measures and modulates the position, forces or moment in all 6-degrees-of-freedom in the torso’s particular areas. It has 3 rings on the pelvis, upper-thoracic and middle-thoracic areas of the spine. The parallel-actuated 6-degrees-of-freedom robot controls the movements of 2 adjacent rings.

The complete device consists of 12-degree-of-freedom supervised via 12 motors. The system can apply controlled and corrective forces in particular directions while enabling free movements in other directions at the same time. Specifically, it can control the upper rings’ movements w.r.t the pelvis ring.

designing Robotic Spine Exoskeleton to treat deformities Credit: Sunil Agrawal / Columbia Engineering

The device is developed as per the principle used in traditional spinal bracing — provide 3-point loading at curve apex through 3 rings fitted on the human torso. To identify the human torso’s 3D stiffness, the device applies 6 unidirectional displacement in all degree-of-freedom of the torso, at 2 distinct levels, while monitoring forces as well as moments at the same time.

Reference: IEEE Xplore | doi:10.1109/TNSRE.2018.2821652 | Columbia Engineering 

Testing and Results

Researchers conducted a test in which they concurrently measured the exerted forces on particular cross sections of torsos of 8 healthy male and 2 male with spinal deformities.

They found that RoSE successfully characterized 3D stiffness of subject’s torsos. The stiffness of healthy people were significantly different than those who had spine deformities.

The characteristics of torsos stiffness are curve-specific and relies on the position of curve apex. These results open up a new door for developing comfortable spine braces that include person-specific torso stiffness characteristics.

What’s Next?

Compared to boys, scoliosis is almost ten times more common in female children. Currently, the research team is working to test RoSE on girls and discover how torso stiffness differs in multiple medical conditions.

They also plan to conduct a study to characterize torso stiffness in conjunction with radiography to match the displacements of spine against displacements or forces applied on the torso.

Read: Engineers Put a Worm’s Brain In A Small Robot | And It Worked

Moreover, the characteristics of torso stiffness may rely on several other factors that haven’t been taken into account in this study. Some of those are body fat, bone maturity, different cross sections or postures, etc. Addressing the role(s) of these factors on torso stiffness would require a whole new research.

Written by
Varun Kumar

Varun Kumar is an experienced science and technology journalist interested in machines, AI, and space exploration. He received a Master's degree in computer science from Indraprastha University. To find out what his latest project is, feel free to directly email him at [email protected] 

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