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NEWS
Trunk-Support Trainer Invented To Assist Those With Spinal Cord Injuries
January 14, 2020

A Columbia Engineering team has invented a robotic device—the Trunk-Support Trainer (TruST)—that can be used to assist and train people with spinal cord injuries (SCIs) to sit more stably by improving their trunk control, and thus gain an expanded active sitting workspace without falling over or using their hands to balance. The study, “The robotic Trunk-Support-Trainer (TruST) to measure and increase postural workspace during sitting in people with spinal cord injury,” published recently in Spinal Cord Series and Cases, is the first to measure and define the sitting workspace of patients with SCI based on their active trunk control.


Illustration showing the architecture of TruST, a robotic device invented by Columbia engineers that retrains patients with spinal cord injury to sit more stably and gain an expanded active sitting workspace. Credit: Sunil Agrawal and Victor Santamaria/Columbia Engineering.

“We designed TruST for people with SCIs who are typically wheelchair users,” says Sunil Agrawal, the project’s PI and professor of mechanical engineering and of rehabilitation and regenerative medicine. “We found that TruST not only prevents patients from falling, but also maximizes trunk movements beyond patients’ postural control, or balance limits.”

According to information, TruST is a motorized-cable-driven belt placed on the user’s torso to determine the postural control limits and sitting workspace area in people with SCI. It delivers forces on the torso when the user performs upper body movements beyond the postural stability limits while sitting.

The five subjects with SCI who participated in the pilot study were examined with the Postural Star-Sitting Test, a customized postural test that required them to follow a ball with their head and move their trunk as far as possible, without using their hands. The test was repeated in eight directions, and the researchers used the results to compute the sitting workspace of each individual.

The team then tailored the TruST for each subject to apply personalized assistive force fields on the torso while the subjects performed the same movements again. With the TruST, the subjects were able to reach further during the trunk excursions in all eight directions and significantly expand the sitting workspace around their bodies, on an average of about 25% more.

“The capacity of TruST to deliver continuous force-feedback personalized for the user’s postural limits opens new frontiers to implement motor learning-based paradigms to retrain functional sitting in people with SCI,” says Victor Santamaria, a physical therapist, postdoctoral researcher in Prof. Agrawal’s Robotics and Rehabilitation Laboratory, and first author of the paper. “We think TruST is a very promising SCI rehab tool.”

The study was supported, in part, by New York State research funding.


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