A team of engineering students from Rice University in Houston has come up with a potential solution for patients suffering from rib flaring associated with congenital deformations of the chest wall that cause it to jut out or cave in.
Pectus carinatum and pectus excavatum are conditions in which a person is born with their breastbone protruding outward or sunken inward, respectively. There are treatments available, but for many patients – predominantly those ages 12–20 – they cause rib flaring, a condition in which the lower ribs at the front of the rib cage protrude outward.
‘Because these conditions occur mainly in patients with ages between 12 and 20, this affects their body image, social life and the like at a crucial time in their development,’ said Jaden Roberts, a member of the Pectus Reparatum team.
For some patients with pectus carinatum, wearing a brace helps reshape the chest over time. Those with pectus excavatum, on the other hand, often require surgical intervention. Post-surgery, many still have to contend with rib flaring.
Pediatric surgeon Mark Mazziotti at Texas Children’s Hospital hoped to expand the industry-standard brace’s therapeutic potential to the treatment of rib flaring. However, the brace is bulky and adds to the discomfort and insecurity associated with the condition, causing many patients to choose not to wear it.
‘This helped us set a goal,’ said team member Shelby DesRoches. ‘We were thinking about this bracing mechanism they were already using and we drew inspiration from that brace design to create one that patients would be more compliant using that would effectively treat rib flaring.’
The team designed a low-profile, cost-conscious brace called ‘the cartilage corrector’ as its capstone design project. ‘The main feature we wanted to improve upon with our design is providing self-adjustability for the user,’ Roberts said. ‘With the current brace, you can’t adjust the pressure being applied yourself. Instead, you have to go into your doctor’s office and have them adjust it for you, and then you’re stuck with that fit until the next visit, which can be months or even one or two years later.’
The team also wants to make it possible for doctors to track the pressure being applied over time in order to assess treatment effectiveness and optimise plans based on individual needs. ‘The electronic system for our device will provide accurate data such as time-tracking in conjunction with pressure measurements,’ Castillo said. ‘Measurement values will be saved to an SD card and can then be transferred to a computer and read on a graph.’
The data collected could provide information about what level of pressure is effective over a given length of time.
The team hopes to show the brace to some of Mazziotti’s patients and get their feedback.