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Inspired by her mother, grad student creates amazing scoliosis brace that grows with patients

Sangyu Xi invented an adjustable brace for young scoliosis patients who need to reposition their curved spines, replacing common braces.

Inspired by her mother, grad student creates amazing scoliosis brace that grows with patients
Cover Image Source: YouTube/James Dyson Foundation

Scoliosis, a spine curvature that affects 7 million Americans annually, frequently starts before puberty. The innovation for braces that treat this medical condition has not improved since the late 1950s, despite the enormous number of those affected. Typical braces are bulky, noticeable and rigid, which can discourage some kids from wearing the appliance as frequently as they should. A graduate student at the University of Cincinnati, Sangyu Xi, has always known she wants to use her talents to help someone "have a different life." She won the James Dyson Award for her creative brilliance when she created the unique Airy prototype, a brace for young kids who need to realign their curved spines, according to Good News Network



She created a breathable, cosy and adaptable alternative to the typical brace, one that can easily be set up at home and can suit a patient's growth for up to three years. Sangyu, who was born and raised in the central Chinese city of Chengdu, has always had a fascination for design. “I found myself [able to] concentrate when doodling on paper,” Sangyu says. “I could easily spend seven to eight hours in the [design] studio.” Despite having always had a passion for design, she chose to focus on computer science as her first subject at university.

The engineering and design student from China discovered early on that designing is a task that enables her to concentrate for extended periods of time. A trip to the Museum of Modern Art in New York City convinced her that she could turn that talent into a profession. “That’s the first time I began to accept that design could be my job… I could do what I really love and be respected.” Sangyu finalized a co-op course at the University of Cincinnati, given the opportunity she would have to be exposed to real-world experience, per the official website of James Dyson Awards.



Sangyu was motivated by the medical device sales work her mother did, which always propped her in the field of medical innovation. After learning about the scoliosis screening procedures used in U.S. schools from a professor, Sangyu made the decision to learn more about the condition. She started developing plans for a novel type of brace when she saw how little progress had been made in scoliosis brace design. 

During her senior year capstone project, Airy was born. 

Aside from the comfort and breathability that Airy offers, it has a recyclable app with a wear time and healing tracking feature. Young patients can wear Airy with confidence because its external colour can be changed and its padding can be eliminated to make it translucent. Because no adhesive is used in the production process, patients can recycle the brace up to 10 times after treatment or donate it to peers in developing countries. The software also enables real-time communication between doctors and patients regarding any changes to treatment regimens. The Airy prototype has been tested on four teen patients at Cincinnati Children's Hospital since it was created, and the results have been overwhelmingly good. 



“Winning this national award really means something to the scoliosis patients who are trying to call to people ‘we want something new that we want to wear and that can help us fight against scoliosis,’” said Sangyu. She now intends to carry out patient studies in the future to enhance the prototype's design. She plans to use the James Dyson Award money to recruit a machine learning engineer to advance the Airy app's development and an orthopaedic mentor to assist in commercializing Airy.

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