Graduate Student Wins Award with Robot Model for Scoliosis

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The technology behind the back brace used to treat scoliosis has not changed in 40 years according to Chloe Chung, a UTHSC graduate student. That’s too long, she said. “It really is in need of change.”

Scoliosis is a bend in the spine, Chung explained, coupled with axial rotation, and typically is treated in childhood with a wearable brace of rigid plastic. “Each brace is unique,” Chung said, “based on measures from X-rays, because each scoliosis deformity is unique.”

Chloe Chung with robot home slider
Chloe Chung and the robot she developed for the testing of scoliosis braces.

For her master’s thesis, titled, “Scoliosis Analog Model for the Evaluation of Bracing Technology,” Chung developed a novel device – a robot for testing scoliosis braces. This earned her the 2015 Thesis Award from the Tennessee Conference of Graduate Schools (TCGS). By enabling the experimental study of scoliosis braces, she hopes to improve brace design and treatment outcomes.

As an undergraduate, Chung majored in mechanical engineering at Christian Brothers University. Through her internships, she discovered and nurtured a passion for biomedical design that led her to UTHSC’s College of Graduate Health Sciences. She earned her Master of Science degree in Biomedical Engineering in a joint program from UTHSC and the University of Memphis in December 2015, and went on to start the PhD program at UTHSC in January 2016.

Her mentor is Denis J. DiAngelo, UTHSC Distinguished Professor of Biomechanics and director of the BioRobotics Laboratory in the Department of Orthopaedic Surgery and Biomedical Engineering. Dr. DiAngelo specializes in advanced robotic testing platforms that simulate how human joints move under different loading conditions.

Chung’s robot is a physical reproduction of a child with scoliosis. Just like a brace, the robot can be modified to reflect a specific child. “My model is fully adjustable,” Chung said. The robot model imitates physical movement, subjecting the brace to the same stresses it will receive in actual use.

“We had computational models, and clinical models, but nothing to do actual biomedical testing on,” she said.

The TCGS Thesis Award is the latest in a string of honors that include University of Tennessee Alumni Association Joe and Pat Johnson Scholarship, 2013 -2014; the Biomedical Engineering Society UM/UT chapter liaison, 2014; the UTHSC Graduate Research Day Poster Presentation, 2015; the Southern Biomedical Engineering Conference Oral Presentation Second Place Award, 2015; the Life Science Tennessee Annual Conference Poster Presentation, 2015; the UTHSC College of Graduate Health Sciences Travel Award, 2015; and the BME Seminar Series Oral Presentation, 2015.