“With this technology, we believe that we can improve the way rehabilitation is performed in order to enhance the recovery of gait and balance,” says Jean-Baptiste Mignardot, a neuroscientist at the Center for Neuroprosthetics and Brain Mind Institute at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology who worked to develop the harness.
In an initial study, patients who used the harness were able to walk more naturally. The harness helped them with some of the elements of walking that most of us take for granted: balance, limb coordination, foot placement, steering. For patients in the study who could already walk on their own using supports like walkers, after practicing with the harness their solo walking showed immediate improvement. The findings were published last month in the journal Science Translational Medicine.
Experts have cautioned that it could be a “long road” to having the system widely available to the public. The next step will be more and larger studies, including ones that compare the smart harness with traditional versions. Mignardot and his team members are also working with a medical technology company to commercialize a version of the harness, called RYSEN. They've submitted patents for the technology.
Previous research has suggested that high-tech approaches are not always best when it comes to rehabilitation. A 2011 Duke University study, the largest stroke rehabilitation study ever conducted, concluded that simple, at-home physical therapy was the most successful method of stroke rehabilitation. “Locomotor training, including the use of body-weight support in stepping on a treadmill, was not shown to be superior to progressive exercise at home managed by a physical therapist,” the study authors wrote.
It’s not yet clear whether the smart harness system will change this equation. But Mignardot hopes it will at least be an important part of the stroke and spinal cord injury therapy process in the future.
Read more: http://www.smithsonianmag.com/innovation/robotic-harness-help-paralyzed-walk-180964323/#3QbSd5uCOjlveQrV.99
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