$550,000 Innovation Award for new wheelchair design

July 27, 2021

MSU teams up with NSF to prevent wheelchair pressure injuries

A Michigan State University research team will work to prevent pressure injuries from power wheelchairs with the help of a $550,000 Innovation Award from the National Science Foundation.

Spartan Engineers are working to create an innovative new wheelchair system.
MSU's innovative wheelchair design seeks to prevent pressure injuries.

Tamara Reid Bush, professor and interim chairperson of the Department of Mechanical Engineering, along with her students, are using knowledge from biomechanical design and their research from several wheelchair-using populations to create an innovative new wheelchair system. Justin Scott, Bush's post-doctoral colleague and long-time member of the lab’s research team, will lead portions of the work.

Bush said she and her team in MSU’s Biomechanical Design Research Laboratory have already demonstrated results using a laboratory-based prototype.

“This is a novel, multi-segmented actuator-driven wheelchair system that is capable of new motions not possible with commercially available wheelchairs,” Bush explained. “The $550,000 in new funding from NSF will help us implement the design into a mobile platform. We will also apply automatic adjustments using sensor output when users are in their wheelchairs. That means we can directly address risk factors with pressure injury formation on the thighs, upper, middle and lower back and buttocks.”

Tamara Reid Bush
Tamara Reid Bush

Bush said pressure injuries occur in the majority of wheelchair users.

“Common locations for injuries are under the buttocks and on the lower back. These wounds can extend down to the bone,” she continued. “The fact that tissues are constantly loaded because of their body position leads to high tissue stress, a reduction in blood flow and eventually wound formation.”

Bush said their research goal is to create a better wheelchair that individualizes chair movements for particular occupants. 

“Off-loading pressure on high-risk areas in the thighs, back and buttocks facilitates increased blood perfusion and decreased tissue stresses. That directly addresses risk factors associated with pressure injury formation.”

MSU research seeks to prevent wheelchair pressure injuries, which can extend to bone.
Wheelchair pressure injuries can extend to the bone. MSU is working to solve the health threat for wheelchair users.

Bush and her team are partnering with Brian Sheridan, founder of several rehabilitation clinics and medical equipment companies to advance this translational research and its technology to users.

Funding is provided through NSF’s Partnerships for Innovation.

Development specialists at the MSU Innovation Center will provide additional support during the project with the end goal of having the device commercialized, Bush added.