Safeguarding human health has been a key theme of PolyU’s impactful research. An example of that is the groundbreaking solution invented by PolyU researchers to tackle scoliosis. Professor Joanne Yip Yiu-wan, Associate Dean and Professor of School of Fashion and Textiles, has always been keen to find ways to improve the treatment of scoliosis and enhance AIS patients’ quality of life.


Traditionally, the most common treatment is a rigid brace worn for 18 to 23 hours daily until skeletal maturity (for two to three years). Patients, especially teenagers, are reluctant to wear braces, however, due to their discomfort and aesthetic reasons. Also, it is time-consuming and challenging to constantly modify the brace design for an optimum corrective effect.


Adolescent Idiopathic Scoliosis (AIS)

What is Adolescent Idiopathic Scoliosis (AIS)?
Adolescent Idiopathic Scoliosis (AIS) is the most common type of scoliosis, affecting about 2-3% of adolescents. Some patients may develop various complications with an impact on their physical, social and psychological well-being. Among the major complications are impaired cardiopulmonary function, chronic back pain, body image disturbance such as uneven shoulders, prominent ribs and asymmetric trunk.

PolyU invention that meets societal need

Professor Yip’s own experience caused her to look for an alternative solution. “My friend’s daughter had scoliosis, but the brace was so uncomfortable that she refused to wear it. Eventually, she missed the best time for treatment and needed spinal surgery,” she said. An idea was formed in her mind to design a product both comfortable and lightweight enabling individuals to receive the necessary support before it became too late.


With their best efforts, Professor Yip and her team successfully employed Artificial Intelligence (AI) to create a series of tailor-made functional clothing for treating AIS. Patient data has been used to train a decision tree and three neural networks to prescribe and configure the brace, which is then customised by professionals.


Through optimising the placement of padding, tightness of elastic straps, and configurable 3D structures, the innovative designs can reduce the spinal curvature of AIS patients and improve the functionality and comfort of the functional clothing. A replacement for the heavy and uncomfortable traditional brace is finally found.


Professor Yip’s team has designed a series of functional clothing for treating AIS with different Cobb’s angles:

Body-mapping tank top
Body-mapping tank top equipped with a biofeedback system, which can progressively provide muscle training to patients with spinal deformities so as to restore a balance in muscle activity and reduce the displacement of both sides of the spine.

Anisotropic textile brace
Anisotropic textile brace for adolescents who have moderate scoliosis (Cobb’s angle between 20° to 40°), which is more flexible, more comfortable, and lighter in weight allowing patients to enjoy a quality life.

Posture correction girdle
Posture correction girdle for adolescents who have the early stages of scoliosis (Cobb’s angle between 10° to 20°), which can enhance postural controlling and reduce the possibility of spinal curve progression in scoliosis.


PolyU academic-led startup to make real impact

Professor Yip founded the startup Active Biotechnology (Hong Kong) Company Limited to commercialise the research outcome, benefitting mankind with innovative technology. To date, the company has launched a body mapping tank-top that provides tailored pain-free posture training for adolescents with early scoliosis.


The tank-top is also equipped with inertial measurement unit (IMU) sensors that are synchronised with pre-recorded surface electromyography (sEMG) signals. Designed with maximum wear comfort and accurately positioned IMUs, the tank-top can be worn for extended periods of time without negative effects on quality of life. The tank-top works alongside an application – available on smartphones and computers – that monitors body posture information in real time. The technology encourages scoliosis patients to take a more active role in improving their control and coordination of movement and daily posture, while reducing the future likelihood of bracing or surgical treatment.


Active Biotechnology (Hong Kong) Company Limited
The spin-off company of PolyU endeavours to develop posture training systems for medical, sports and healthcare applications. Its innovative and insightful technologies are intended to address the unmet needs of adolescents with mild scoliosis as well as provide alternative options for those who are undergoing bracing treatment without reducing their quality of life.