Jun 23, 2016 | By Andre

Cerebral palsy is a disorder that affects roughly 1 out of every 500 live births and is caused by abnormal development or damage to the parts of the brain that control movement, balance and posture. And while there is no cure, there are many therapy and medical based treatments that provide a mechanism to cope.

Just like every medical condition one can think of, early detection is an important factor to providing a means for growing up healthy as possible. And thanks to the work by researchers at Virginia Tech University, the Nationwide Children's Hospital in Ohio and 3D printing, a new tactile sensitive glove for early detection is being developed.

The glove, currently being trial-tested on adults before eventually being scaled down for children, provides tactile feedback via a combination of sensors in both the glove and EEG connections that detect brain wave irregularities in the patients brain.

After working with robotic exoskeletons for years, associate professor of mechanical engineering Pinhas Ben-Tzvi was called on to see if a force-feedback skeleton glove already developed could be modified to help with early detection of cerebral palsy in children. In short, when the glove sensors activate to produce a reaction from the patient, the brain sensors will produce important signals that will provide early warning signs to anyone afflicted with the disorder.

He recalls that when Nationwide Children's Hospital Doctor Nathalie Maitre proposed "to fit a modified version of my glove to a child in an effort to apply somatosensory stimuli to measure cortical responses for the early detection of cerebral palsy,” he jumped at the opportunity. But he also began reflecting on some immediate challenges as whether it will work at all, but also a way “to make it much smaller and to make it look child friendly so it doesn’t scare the children who have to use it.”

In its current state, the glove looks more like something a cyborg would feel comfortable wearing than a child and the research team understands changes need to be made when the move to fitting the device for children 12-36 months in age is made. As time goes on, a second phase targeted at toddlers will be implemented that compare motor movement differences via EEC readings between normally developing children and those diagnosed with cerebral palsy.

Of course Ben-Tzvi is excited about the prospect of the work being done on the subject. Originally designed to assist in the rehabilitation of stroke victims, the modified variant gives new life to an already tested technology. He finishes that “I think anytime your work can be modified to help identify a medical issue more quickly, the more beneficial it becomes for the patient and the more options it allows for in treatment. The fact we are taking a device made to deal with after-the-fact issues and using it to possibly help make an earlier diagnosis of an issue is very exciting.”

Still early on in the development phase, the use of 3D printing for the process is important because of the quick design changes that were necessary early on, but also looking forward when children test trials begin. A 12 month old has a very different hand size than a 36 month old so having an affordable way to scale the glove to different sizes (as well as perhaps produce a version that is more durable and child-friendly) can’t easily be done with other methods of production on an inevitably small research production run.

3D Printing has already made important inroads in many medical fields as well as low-cost prosthesis replacement limbs. The fact that the technology is being utilized in research for early detection of common disorders is another victory for the research teams behind the technology, 3D printing and of course the patients that it may one day help lead a better life.



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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