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Robotic sock prevents blood clots in legs

11 Feb 2015

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Deep vein thrombosis (DVT) is common among patients who are bedridden or unable to move their legs. It is a potentially life-threatening condition caused by blood clots forming along the lower extremity veins of the legs. To help prevent DVT and improve survival rates of patients, researchers at the National University of Singapore's (NUS) Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine and Faculty of Engineering invented a novel bio-inspired robotic sock.

Equipped with soft actuators that mimic the tentacle movements of corals, the robotic sock emulates natural lower leg muscle contractions in the wearer's leg, thereby promoting blood circulation throughout the wearer's body. In addition, the novel device can potentially optimise therapy sessions and enable the patient's lower leg movements to be monitored to improve therapy outcomes.

The invention is created by Assistant Professor Lim Jeong Hoon from the NUS Department of Medicine, as well as Assistant Professor Raye Yeow Chen Hua and first-year PhD candidate Low Fanzhe of the NUS Department of Biomedical Engineering.

Robotic sock

NUS researchers (from right to left) Assistant Professor Raye Yeow, Low Fanzhe and Dr Liu Yuchun demonstrate the novel bio-inspired robotic sock. (Source: National University of Singapore)


Bio-inspired approach to preventing DVT

Current approaches to prevent DVT include pharmacological methods, which involve using anti-coagulation drugs to prevent blood from clotting, and mechanical methods that involve the use of compressive stimulations to assist blood flow.

While pharmacological methods are competent in preventing DVT, there is a primary detrimental side effect—there is higher risk of excessive bleeding which can lead to death, especially for patients who suffered hemorrhagic stroke. On the other hand, current mechanical methods such as the use of compression stockings have not demonstrated significant reduction in DVT risk.

In the course of exploring an effective solution that can prevent DVT, Lim, who is a rehabilitation clinician, was inspired by the natural role of the human ankle muscles in facilitating venous blood flow back to the heart. He worked with Yeow and Low to derive a method that can perform this function for patients who are bedridden or unable to move their legs.

The team turned to nature for inspiration to develop a device that is akin to human ankle movements. They found similarities in the elegant structural design of the coral tentacle, which can extend to grab food and contract to bring the food closer for consumption, and invented soft actuators that mimic this "push and pull" mechanism.

By integrating the actuators with a sock and the use of a programmable pneumatic pump-valve control system, the invention is able to create the desired robot-assisted ankle joint motions to facilitate blood flow in the leg.


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