Scientists have invented a wearable robotic sock that promotes blood circulation and reduces the risk of deep vein thrombosis (DVT) for bedridden or immobile patients.
The team fashioned the robotic sock’s “push and pull” mechanism by mimicking the extension-contraction tentacle movements of corals.
DVT refers to the formation of blood clots along the lower veins of the legs, which can be fatal if the clot reaches the heart or lungs. This risk can range between 13 percent and 18 percent for bedridden patients who cannot move their limbs.
The design uses a cotton sock linked to soft, lightweight silicon rubber actuators or motors integrated with a programmable pneumatic pump-valve control system. The invention stimulates ankle joint motions to facilitate blood flow in the leg.
The team chose soft components to increase patient comfort during use, hence minimizing the risk of injury from excessive mechanical forces, explains Low Fanzhe, a PhD student at the National University of Singapore.
Currently, anti-coagulation drugs are used to treat DVT but these have detrimental side effects such as increased risk of excessive bleeding which can be fatal, especially for hemorrhagic stroke patients.
Existing mechanical compression devices and compression stockings also show no significant reduction in DVT risk. The new innovation will thus help address these issues.
“Given its compact size, modular design, and ease of use, the soft robotic sock can be adopted in hospital wards and rehabilitation centers for on-bed applications to prevent DVT among stroke patients or even at home for bedridden patients,” says Raye Yeow, assistant professor in the biomedical engineering department.
To test the efficacy of the robotic sock, the team will conduct pilot clinical trials with about 30 patients at the National University Hospital between March and August. Similar trials will subsequently take place at different local hospitals for further evaluation.
The feedback from the trials will help the researchers improve the device’s design and capabilities, and plan for commercialization in future.
Source: National University of Singapore