Customizable scoliosis brace that grows with patients wins 2022 US James Dyson Award
University of Cincinnati graduate Sangyu Xi named US winner of international award for her invention Airy, a
repositionable scoliosis brace that adolescent patients can wear comfortably and confidently
September 7, 2022
- Scoliosis is a lateral curvature in the spine that occurs most often before puberty, affecting 7 million Americans per year. 
- 87 percent of teen scoliosis patients are young girls.  Airy is designed to be less bulky and more customizable to better fit within teens’ lifestyles.
- There have been limited advancements in scoliosis brace design since the late 1950’s. 
- On average, a patient with scoliosis can expect to spend $9,000 on braces throughout the course of treatment. This cost can be reduced with a brace that can grow with a patient for up to three years.
This year’s American James Dyson Award winner, Sangyu Xi, created a new kind of scoliosis brace. The “Invisalign” of scoliosis braces, Airy, is a breathable, comfortable, and adjustable brace that can be set up at home with a unique installation guide. Airy is adjustable to accommodate patient growth for up to three years and includes access to an app to track wear time and healing.
The James Dyson Award is an international design award that celebrates, encourages and inspires the next generation of design engineers. Each year a national winner is selected and receives a cash prize. In addition, runner ups are named and all three inventions move to the next round of the award to be considered for the top 20 list comprised of the best inventions around the world.
Impacting 7 million Americans per year, scoliosis is a lateral curvature in the spin that often occurs before puberty. It’s so common that students around the US are often tested for scoliosis in school. Despite this, advancements in the braces used to treat this medical condition have not been changed since the late 1950s. Common braces are bulky, inflexible and can take a long time to manufacture. Because scoliosis is often diagnosed in teenagers, the stark, bland appearance of the very noticeable braces can deter highly impressionable, young patients from wearing the brace as often as they should.
Airy overcomes the typical scoliosis brace's limitations of long-term fabrication, low patient compliance and non-recyclability. It is an off-the-shelf brace that can be adjusted to match a patient’s future growth for up to three years. The exterior color of Airy can also be modified or padding can be removed to make it translucent, allowing young patients to wear the brace confidently. After treatment, patients can donate the brace to third-world peers, or the brace can be recycled up to 10 times since no glue is used in the manufacturing process.
To help improve compliance with scoliosis brace patients, a worn time monitor has been used in recent years. Not only does Airy feature a worn time monitor, but the monitor is linked to an app, allowing physicians to track patient wear time and progress. The app also allows physicians to communicate with patients in real-time on any adjustments to treatment plans.
Since creating Airy, a prototype has been tested on four teen patients at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital. Feedback was extremely positive, according to Sangyu, with the patients noting they preferred Airy over their current braces. In the future, Sangyu hopes to continue patient trials to continue to prototype Airy’s design. Sangyu plans to use the James Dyson Award prize to bring on a machine learning engineer to further develop the Airy app, and an orthopaedic mentor to help bring Airy to market. On being the US National Winner, Sangyu says she hopes this recognition is a reminder to scoliosis patients that their voices are being heard.
“Winning this national award really means something to the scoliosis patients who are trying to call to people ‘we want something new [that] we want to wear and that can help us fight against scoliosis.’”
- Sangyu Xi, Winner of the 2022 US James Dyson Award and Inventor of Airy
Hear more about Airy from Sangyu Xi here.
About the Inventor
Born and raised in Chengdu, located in Central China, Sangyu’s passion for design began at an early age. “I found myself [able to] concentrate when doodling on paper,” Sangyu says. “I could easily spend seven to eight hours in the [design] studio.” While she always had an interest in design, she decided to start her time at University studying computer science. It wasn’t until a visit to the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York City during her undergrad where she decided to make the switch to design.
“That’s the first time I began to accept that design could be my job… I could do what I really love and be respected.” Sangyu was drawn to the co-op program at the University of Cincinnati because of the opportunity to gain real-world experience, and during her senior year capstone project, Airy was born.
Sangyu was inspired by her mother’s work in medical device sales and always knew she wanted to use her design skills to create something that could help someone “have a different life.” During a discussion with a professor, Sangyu learned about the testing process for scoliosis in US schools and decided to research further into the condition. After discovering the limited advancements in scoliosis brace design, she began designs for a new kind of brace.
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 National Scoliosis Foundation
 International Society on Scoliosis Orthopaedic and Rehabilitation Treatment
 Antonelli, M.G. et al.: AN INNOVATIVE BRACE WITH PNEUMATIC THRUSTS FOR SCOLIOSIS TREATMENT In: Design & Nature and Ecodynamics. vol. 5, 2010, no.4, s. 357.