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Student Team Develops Double-Action Biomedical Vest to Provide Postural Assistance for Children

April 13, 2012

A custom, vest-like orthopedic device developed by three Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology senior biomedical engineering students could provide relief to children with severely slouched shoulders who have difficulty gauging their body position. These medical conditions can hamper proper physical development and can have long-term consequences.

     Female Team
   Custom-Made Project: Senior biomedical engineering students (from left), Bailey Wagner, Morgan Williams, and Leah Pelzel show off the vest-like orthopedic device developed to help children with severely slouched shoulders from developing hypotonia, a medical condition that can hamper physical development.

The device is intended to help patients between 3 and 5 years old who are experiencing a progressive loss of muscle tone, a condition known as hypotonia. This often leads to kyphosis, a state of severely slouched shoulders. Children with these disorders may lag behind in acquiring certain motor developmental skills, and if left untreated, the conditions can lead to a severe bowing or rounding of the back.

"Every day is important in the life of a young child with this disorder. That inspired us to make important steps every day in finding a better solution to this problem," stated Morgan Williams, a member of the device development team.

Leah Pelzel, Bailey Wagner, and Williams designed "Conforming Comfort," a double-action device that provides a comfortable and easy-to-use solution for young patients with kyphosis. The vest has two layers that combine to provide constant compression to improve children's awareness of their torso position, while also aligning their shoulders. The elastic-based inside layer provides the compression. Meanwhile, the outside layer pulls the shoulders back into proper posture through the use of suspension straps.

The vest accounts for growth of the child as well as the ability to apply differing amounts of compression throughout treatment.

"Our design is unique because it corrects two areas of concern with one device," states Pelzel. "There are currently braces and compression sleeves available, but nothing like our concept, that brings bracing and compression together in one piece."

As part of the design process, the three teammates created an adult-sized prototype of the compression vest, which Williams wore to assess functionality and comfort.

The team is currently making final modifications to the garment, which is to be worn underneath a child's clothing. It will be presented to the project client, a Michigan physician, later this month.

"Our concept has been strong throughout the design process. Now, we're just tweaking some minor adjustments," states Wagner. "Our physician client has been very satisfied with our work so far.  It is personally rewarding to see our work helping others in need."

The "Conforming Comfort" vest is among 12 capstone biomedical engineering projects completed this year by student teams, under the supervision of professors Kay C Dee, Glen Livesay, and Renee Rogge.  Many of the projects were supported by a grant from the National Science Foundation.  Two student teams independently received competitive funding from the American Society for Engineering Education's Design in Engineering Education Division. Technical support for several projects was provided by Rose-Hulman Ventures.