Scientists have developed a new robotic exoskeleton to provide spinal cord injury patients with assistance and resistance to help rebuild muscle function.
"The thought was, if we've got somebody with an incomplete spinal cord injury, perhaps they could benefit from robotics," the Discovery News quoted Marcia O'Malley, and associate professor of mechanical engineering at Rice University who led the team that developed the device, as saying.
The new motorized device, dubbed "RiceWrist,", which resembles a sci-fi movie prop, emerged from a stroke rehabilitation pilot clinical study of a joystick robotic device that O'Malley worked on with Gerard Francisco, chief medical officer of The Institute for Rehabilitation and Research (TIRR) at Memorial Hermann hospital.
The robotic device has hardware actuated with motors, and every degree of freedom contains movement-detecting sensors. A patient dons the device and must perform tasks linked to a computer, hitting a target on the screen by moving a certain way. The RiceWrist can provide assistance or resistance, as determined by a physical therapist who oversees the process.
"They must continuously push to move against the target," O'Malley said.
"It's like moving through honey," added O'Malley.
These directed repetitive actions retrain the patient's motor neurons.
O'Malley said that while the device hasn't been explored for aiding patients with traumatic brain injuries, she has reason to believe it could help.