Many pathological conditions of the neck, such as traumatic fractures, ligament injuries, rheumatoid arthritis, tumors, and instability related to a surgical procedure, require a patient’s head and neck to be immobilized relative to their trunk. In many cases, an external brace, called a HALO vest, is used. It is often used as an alternative to surgery. It is absolutely required in many cases to prevent or treat injury to the spinal cord, but has several disadvantages.
The current HALO vest requires a ring (the “HALO”) to be attached around the top of the patient’s skull with pins, and then secured to a vest that the patient wears on their upper body with a series of rods, known as the “superstructure”. This assembly must be worn 24 hours a day, typically for periods of three months or longer. The currently available braces cause significant discomfort and inconvenience to the patient. For example, a patient must sleep sitting upright, the superstructure prevents the wearing of clothes that are pulled on over the head, and grooming, personal hygiene, etc are all difficult. In addition the currently utilized materials cause problems with performing MRI scans and other x-rays. The current design is based on technology developed decades ago and modified very little since.
Recognizing this deficit, collaborations between the Department of Neurological Surgery and the School of Engineering lead to an effort to create a new type of HALO that would be more structurally stable, easier to place on a patient, safer, and more cosmetically appealing. After several years of work, a new construct has been created which is currently in process of being licensed for commercial application.