MAK­ING STRIDES

Boston re­searchers have de­vel­oped a ‘soft’ ro­botic suit to help pa­tients re­gain their abil­ity to walk.

Metro USA (Boston) - - FRONT PAGE - KRISTIN TOUSSAINT @kristin­dakota kristin.toussaint@metro.us

Stroke pa­tients may soon be able to wear a ro­botic suit that can help them walk with­out a limp.

Re­searchers at Boston Univer­sity’s Col­lege of Health & Re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion Sci­ences and the Har­vard School of En­gi­neer­ing worked to­gether to de­velop a wear­able “soft” ro­botic suit, also called an ex­o­suit, that can help with stroke re­cov­ery.

About 85 per­cent of peo­ple who have had a stroke re­gain the abil­ity to walk, said Terry El­lis, direc­tor of the Cen­ter for Neu­rore­ha­bil­i­ta­tion at BU. But the ma­jor­ity will have im­paired walk­ing, she added, and the treat- ment op­tions for a post­stroke pa­tient are lim­ited.

Cur­rently, pa­tients are given a walker, cane or plas­tic brace that fits on the leg and pre­vents them from trip­ping over their own feet. Lou Awad, a fac­ulty mem­ber at Har­vard’s Wyss In­sti­tute and at BU, said that those mo­bil­ity aids are prac­ti­cally “from pre­his­toric times.”

They’re also prob­lem­atic, El­lis added, be­cause th­ese op­tions hin­der the pa­tient’s abil­ity to re­cover, since they aren’t strength­en­ing the mus­cles nec­es­sary to de­velop a nor­mal gait again.

“This is what’s been hap­pen­ing in re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion for years — there hasn’t been any ma­jor de­vel­op­ments or im­prove­ments away from plas­tic braces or walk­ers,” she said.

“With the soft suit, the idea here is that we can aug­ment the amount of force the mus­cles are able to pro­duce so we can en­hance walk­ing and en­hance re­cov­ery,” she added. “So peo­ple can walk bet­ter, walk faster, and it can be more ef­fi­cient.”

The ex­o­suit came out of a project by a Har­vard re­searcher look­ing to help sol­diers save en­ergy on long treks. Har­vard then ap­proached BU, El­lis said, about us­ing the same tech­nol­ogy to help those with dis­abil­i­ties.

Those who’ve had a stroke would only wear the suit on which­ever side was im­pacted (not on both legs like the sol­diers). Ca­bles at­tached to fabric around the an­kle joint con­nect to a mo­tor worn around the waist. As users walk, the suit sup­ports their move­ments. In the fu­ture, the suit will help with knee joint move­ment as well.

Re­searchers see this suit be­ing used both in a pa­tient’s im­me­di­ate stroke re­cov­ery and also in their daily lives af­ter­ward.

Even­tu­ally, the re­searchers hope this can help those with Parkin­son’s dis­ease, mul­ti­ple sclero­sis and more.

“If a per­son can walk more and walk faster, it means they can re­tain at a higher in­ten­sity and train for longer pe­ri­ods of time.” Lou Awad

FRED MERZ

ROLEX AWARDS/FRED MERZ

Re­searchers at Har­vard and BU de­vel­oped ro­botic tech­nol­ogy to help stroke pa­tients walk nor­mally again.

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