Med Tech: Ekso Bionics suit Helps Paralyzed Man Regain Motion

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SERMO physicians regularly discuss the latest med-tech innovations inside the leading social network for doctors.  Today’s post, covering the new Ekso Bionics exoskeleton suit, comes from one of our UK physicians who contributes to our weekly med-tech column.

A team of researchers at UCLA have combined a robotic exoskeleton suit, developed by Ekso Bionics, with a novel non-invasive spinal stimulation device to help a 39 year old man voluntarily achieve ambulatory motion. The man, named Mark Pollock, becomes the first person with a chronic paralysis to relearn movements and gain active motion with the use of a bionic device. Preliminary results were published online in the proceedings of the recent 37th Annual International Conference of the IEEE Engineering in Medicine and Biology Society.

Pollock’s own story is amazing having previously lost his sight in 1998 aged 22. He went on to compete in ultra-endurance races across deserts, mountains and the polar ice caps. He won silver and bronze medals in rowing at the Commonwealth Games in 2002 and in 2009 became the first blind man to race to the South Pole. In 2010 he suffered a tragic fall from a second level window that left him paraylsed below the waist. He has since explored frontiers of spinal cord injury recovery and launched a motivational speaking business. In a statement he said “in the last few weeks of the trial, my heart rate hit 138 beats per minute. This is an aerobic training zone, a rate I haven’t even come close to since being paralyzed while walking in the robot alone, without these interventions. That was a very exciting, emotional moment for me, having spent my whole adult life before breaking my back as an athlete.”

Innovative motorized devices intended to act as an exoskeleton for people have been in development for over 10 years. The technology has filtered down from the military with augmented suits originally designed for carrying heavy loads. In 2014 a suit manufactured by Argo Medical Technologies, Inc., was approved by the FDA as the first robotic assisted device for personal rehabilitation use.

The news also follows the successful efforts of a collaborative British and Polish research team, led by Professor Geoff Raisman at University College London’s Institute of Neurology, who helped a 40 year old paralysed man in 2014 return to independent walking and driving after a pioneering therapy involved transplanting olfactory ensheathing cells from his forebrain into his spinal cord. The developments offer hope to the many millions around the world with paralysis and impaired physical mobility.

Will bionic exoskeleton suits ever become mainstream? Will aunt minnie be showing off her new hip exoskeleton within the next 10 years?

Link to paper: Iron ‘ElectriRx’ Man: Overground Stepping in an Exoskeleton Combined with Noninvasive Spinal Cord Stimulation after Paralysis.

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