In the past we’ve seen quite a few devices that were designed to help patients after stroke to regain functionality, by improving muscle function and by accelerating brain plasticity. This new robotic-assisted arm brace from MIT is another such device.
A study to appear in the April 2007 issue of the American Journal of Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation shows that the device, which helped Fermental [Maggie Fermental, age 32 –ed.], also had positive results for five other severe stroke patients in a pilot clinical trial.
Fermental, a former surgical nurse, used the rehabilitation device 18 times over nine weeks. After 16 sessions, Fermental, now a stroke education nurse at Beth Israel Hospital, was able to fully bend and straighten her elbow on her own for the first time since the stroke. “It was incredible to be able to move my arm again on command,” she said. “Cooking, dressing, shopping, turning on light switches, opening cabinets–it’s easier now that I have two arms again.”
The device–which sensed Fermental’s electrical muscle activity and provided power assistance to facilitate her movements–also altered her brain.
Following a stroke, the destruction of brain cells leads to loss of motor function. With painstakingly repetitive exercise therapy, other neurons can take over some of the lost function. Devices such as the MIT-developed robotic brace can help people exploit their neural plasticity–the increasingly recognized ability of the brain to rewire itself in response to experience and training.
The robotic therapy device, which is awaiting FDA approval, was tested on stroke patients at MIT’s Clinical Research Center and at Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital in Boston. According to the researchers, the results show that “the ability of the device to provide a ‘power assist’ to muscle groups may help close the feedback loop of brain intention and actual limb movement that is believed to be a key component of cerebral plasticity in motor recovery.”
The study showed that the severely impaired patients’ arm function improved, on average, 23 percent after using the brace, and the arm muscle tightness typical of stroke victims was significantly reduced…
The wearable, portable, lightweight robotic brace slides onto the arm. By sensing the patient’s electrical muscle activity through electromyography (EMG)–which detects muscle cells’ electrical activity when they contract–and sending that data to a motor, it allows stroke patients to control their affected limbs.
When used under the supervision of an occupational or physical therapist, the device can be used to help patients progress from basic motor training, such as lifting boxes or reaching for a light switch, to more complex tasks such as carrying a laundry basket or flipping a light on and off while holding an object with the unaffected limb.
According to the study researchers–Dr. Joel Stein, Kathryn Krebs and Richard Hughes of Harvard Medical School and Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital and MIT graduates Kailas Narendran and John McBean–even people who have experienced a stroke years ago may be able to use the device to regain mobility.
“This brace will allow people who have suffered from neurological trauma to rebuild strength, rehabilitate and gain independence,” said Woodie Flowers, Pappalardo Professor of Mechanical Engineering at MIT, who led the original research team that developed the device. “The joint brace is easily controlled by the user and appears to be cost-effective. It could afford self-driven therapy for a large patient population.”
In 2002 and 2003, Flowers, along with then-students Narendran and McBean, developed a working prototype of the active joint brace. The first prototype system enabled paralyzed victims with certain kinds of spinal cord injuries to move their arms. In 2004, Narendran and McBean won the MIT $50K business plan competition and shortly afterward started the Boston-based company Myomo (an acronym for “my own motion”) to develop a new class of medical technology they call NeuroRobotics.
“NeuroRobotics noninvasively helps people suffering from neurological trauma regain mobility by facilitating their ability to relearn how to control affected muscles and neurological pathways,” Narendran said.
MIT: Robotic brace aids stroke recovery
Flashbacks: Xbox for Stroke Rehabilitation; Robotic Arm Aids in Grasping After Stroke; Anklebot for Stroke Patients; The Northstar Stroke Recovery System; Haptics Systems For Stroke Patients; Hand Mentor for Stroke Patients; AutoAmbulator: Robotic Rehab for Neuro-Disease Patients; Computer System Improves Vision in Cortical Blindness; "RUPERT": Robotic Upper Extremity Repetitive Therapy; VitalStim Therapy; The KineAssist™ Rehab Robot; The WalkAide® System