Soft Wearable Exosuit Helps Stroke Patients to Walk
Researchers at Harvard and Boston University have developed and tested a soft, wearable exosuit on stroke patients with limited mobility, and found that it can help to promote normal walking.
In approximately 80% of stroke patients one limb stops functioning normally. This can cause long-term abnormalities in gait that can reduce a patient’s mobility and increase their risk of falling.
“Current approaches to rehabilitation fall short and do not restore the mobility that is required for normal life,” said Terry Ellis, a scientist at Boston University involved in the study, which was recently published in Science Translational Medicine. There is an ongoing effort to develop assistive technologies to improve these patients’ ability to walk. In previous work, the researchers developed a soft exosuit consisting of wearable soft fabrics attached to pulley systems that can be powered by a wearable battery pack. The pulleys are attached to cables that can pull on the fabric to help with walking.
In healthy volunteers, the exosuit could provide assistive force during walking and jogging, resulting in significant reductions in energy costs. Now, the team has tested the suit in stroke patients. “In treadmill experiments we found that the powered exosuit improved the walking performance of seven post-stroke patients, helping them to clear the ground and push off at the ankle, thus generating more forward propulsion,” said Jaehyun Bae, another scientist involved in the study.
“This study provides a glimpse of a new future where much of patient care will be carried out at home with the help of human-friendly robots, which look nothing like the robots we see in television and movies. This exosuit looks more like sports clothing than R2D2, yet it is equally programmable and carries out tasks on command; however, the exosuit is lightweight, flexible, virtually invisible to others, and individualizes itself for each patient. We hope that it will soon enter clinical use where it undoubtedly could transform the lives of stroke patients for the better,” said Wyss Institute Founding Director Donald Ingber.
See the system in action here:
Photo: from the MedGadget.com site.