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BME associate professor aims to design exoskeleton for healthcare workers

The early design of Wu and Patton's prototype.

Richard and Loan Hill Department of Biomedical Engineering Associate Professor Ming Wu has received a collaborative grant from the University of Illinois Chicago and the Order of Saint Francis (OSF) Healthcare.

The project aims to create an exoskeleton for nursing staff to avoid lower back pain and injury. Wu noted that nursing involves repetitive tasks and long shifts. The most common injuries affecting hospital staff are strains and sprains, which can lead to lower back pain. In fact, according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), these injuries account for 54% of injuries resulting in days away from work.

While the project is in preliminary stages, Wu and his team are gaining insight from the construction field, where workers often use a similar exoskeleton system to protect from and prevent common injuries. Exoskeletons are currently a hot topic of research which commonly are used for people with spinal cord injuries.

The project is part of the Community Health Advocacy (CHA) partnership which states that a multidisciplinary approach to develop technologies, devices, and services that could revolutionize health care and benefit patient care.

UIC and OSF HealthCare have supported ten collaborative CHA projects, awarding more than $900,000 in funding to enhance health and wellness and remove barriers to care, particularly in local, under-resourced communities. This is the fifth round of grants awarded through the CHA program, which encourages UIC faculty and clinicians from OSF HealthCare to work together to develop innovative solutions to health-related problems in urban communities.

Wu and his team are also working with nursing staff to gain more knowledge about the nursing field. He is also collaborating with BME Professor James Patton on this project.

This project began on January 1.