Project to Aid Scoliosis Patients in Developing Countries

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By Keira Lonergan and Joyce Tan

A seminar on a new technology to help scoliosis patients in developing countries will be presented May 19-23 at Don Bosco University in El Salvador. The scoliosis project was developed by students from the Illinois Institute of Technology in collaboration with the Northwestern University Prosthetic Orthotic Center (NUPOC) from a prototype designed by Jose Miguel Gomez, MD, and Don Bosco graduate Nicolas Rojas.

NUPOC and IIT students tackle a scoliosis case.
NUPOC and IIT students tackle a scoliosis case.

The Illinois Institute of Technology's (IIT) first IPRO dedicated to learning through service has spent the last semester and a half delving into the world of scoliosis and its modalities of treatment to bring to the forefront a new technology to help treat patients with scoliosis.

"What is IPRO?" you ask. The IIT Interprofessional Projects (IPRO)SM Program engages multidisciplinary teams of students in semester-long undergraduate projects based on real-world topics from sponsors that reflect the diversity of the workplace: corporations, entrepreneurial ventures, nonprofit organizations, and government agencies. The teams are led by mentors from the faculty and the sponsor. Teams may include students from all academic levels, and across IIT's professional programs (engineering, science, business, law, psychology, design, and architecture). Integration of both vertical (bridging academic levels) and horizontal (bridging professional programs) dimensions within a project team experience is distinctive in higher education today--stimulating student interaction.

Low Cost, Low-Tech System

In September of 2002, 30 IPRO projects were initiated. The 2002 award for Best IPRO Project was given to a team of students on a mission to help the world's scoliosis population. Their goal is to teach about the benefits and use of this technology by co-hosting a seminar in May 2003 for orthotists and other medical practitioners at Don Bosco University in Soyapango, El Salvador.

In preparation for this event, the team has been working diligently on developing user-friendly instructions and presentations designed to efficiently teach others how to use their new "low-cost, low-tech" system--known as "The Kit."

A "Kit Prototype A
A "Kit Prototype A

A series of trial seminars began on March 8, when three orthotic students from NUPOC attended a session to critique the design, applications, and benefits of "The Kit." NUPOC students Daniel Rinella, Dean Woolcock, and Chong Shrout had shown a strong interest in the project when it was mentioned in a lecture at Northwestern. NUPOC and IIT student teams worked together in solving scoliosis case studies, utilizing "The Kit" and its unique procedures.

According to the students, "The Kit" is being constructed to be used globally as an agent of standardization in the orthotics field. The original prototype was developed by Nicolas Rojas, a Don Bosco University orthotics and prosthetics school graduate, and Dr. Jose Miguel Gomez, a physician and certified orthotist from Bogota, Colombia, who identified a need for the system.

"The Kit"--What It Does

Scoliosis can lead to severe deformity and other potential complications. Surgery is often required in severe cases. However, corrective surgery for scoliosis can be risky and painful. In many countries it can be challenging and cost-prohibitive. Bracing often presents as an effective alternative treatment to halt the progression of the curvature and prevent surgery for scoliosis. The measurement process for a brace is frequently subjective and variable in technique. The purpose of this IPRO project is to address this shortcoming.

"The Kit" uses a simple set of adjustable pads and straps to maintain static or translatory forces on the torso. It employs a unique method of efficient force application and measurement, using principles taught by Professor Meade in the engineering program at IIT.

Currently, students are making final preparations for their course presentation and raising funds to finance their trip to Don Bosco University in El Salvador.

To learn more about this IPRO project, contact Kevin Meade, PhD, at