A new bionic knee brace designed by two future physician innovators at Carle Illinois College of Medicine could help cerebral palsy (CP) patients overcome muscle stiffness that limits their mobility.

Cerebral palsy patients have decreased muscle strength and flexibility that hinders mobility and prevents even the most mobile cerebral palsy patients from exercising freely for extended periods of time. A new device designed by Carle Illinois College of Medicine students Dylan Mann and Shahnoor Amin could be a game-changer. The bionic knee brace couples a power generator with built-in bio-feedback sensors to detect when the wearer is trying to voluntarily move the leg muscles. When the sensors detect muscle contraction, the system triggers the power generator to help move the stiffened/spastic muscles.

“What we want to do is not just hold their joints in place, but actually help them as they move and give them motorized assistance so they can overcome that stiffness, that rigidity that they always have in their muscles,” said Mann, a fourth-year student at Carle Illinois. Mann and Amin are working to develop a prototype of their Cerebral Bionics device.

The team’s research indicates that patients with CP average 48 minutes less of physical activity per day than unaffected people, putting them at increased risk for chronic diseases such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease. The Cerebral Bionics knee brace is designed to be portable and affordable, so patients can exercise regularly at home without the need for specialized in-office physical therapy equipment.

“The Capstone Projects give our students the confidence and ability to identify problems in healthcare and then build solutions – through engineering and design – that improve patient care,” said Carle Illinois Health Innovation Professor Michael Oelze, director of Capstone Projects at Carle Illinois.

The Cerebral Bionics device is one of 13 Capstone Innovations proposed by the future physician innovators in Carle Illinois’ Class of 2022. In the final phase of Carle Illinois’ engineering-based, innovation-oriented curriculum, fourth-year students research a problem identified during their clinical rotations, propose a solution, and then work with a cross-disciplinary team, including engineering students from The Grainger College of Engineering, to develop a new prototype or process that will potentially change the practice of medicine and improve patient outcomes. This team included students from Illinois Bioengineering, Nicole Johnson, Drashti Sikligar, and Evan Ko, as well as Master of Engineering candidates Jasmine Thornhill and Zeyu Wu. M.B.A. candidate Patrick Parkes is assisting with a Cerebral Bionics business plan. Faculty advisors include Dr. Sanjiv Jain and Professor Elizabeth Hsiao-Wecksler. The Class of 2022 will present their final project designs later in the Spring.