Robotics and the future of rehabilitation for multiple sclerosis

August 29, 2013 Angeli Mayadev, MD

I am pleased to write some of my thoughts after attending the International Conference on Rehabilitation Robotics (ICORR) in June. This bi-annual meeting brings together biomedical, design, and mechanical engineers as well as providers that work in the field of rehabilitation robotics.

Robotic devices are part of the future of neuro-rehabiltation for multiple sclerosis (MS) patients.  ICORR displayed designs and prototypes of upper extremity devices and lower extremity gait orthosis devices that hold promise for MS patients.

Using these devices in clinical rehabilitation practice would improve patients’ ability to perform the frequent, repetitive movements that we know are essential for the brain to adapt to change, re-grow myelin and build connections between neurons (all parts of healthy neuroplasticity). It would also help address the shortage of neurologically trained therapists. 

Currently, the high cost of the devices limits their use in clinics and at home. Some of the upper extremity robotic devices I trialed were in the range of $80,000 or more.

We look forward to preliminary research collaborations with the biomechanics labs that had promising devices, such as an active assistance hip flexor device, hand held device to measure excursion and hand activity. As a team of healthcare providers, Swedish brings expertise to assist with some of their clinical questions, and we could potentially help them put their devices into phase I and II trials down the road.

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