Soft Robotic Exosuit Could Help Those with Parkinson’s, a Stroke Patient Study Indicates

Patricia Inácio, PhD avatar

by Patricia Inácio, PhD |

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Parkinson's exosuit

A Harvard University-designed soft robotic exosuit that helped stroke patients walk better could do the same for Parkinson’s and multiple sclerosis patients, those involved in creating and evaluating the prototype say.

The invention, which ReWalk Robotics is moving toward commercializing, promises to change the lives of patients with mobility impairments, the team says.

Patients with Parkinson’s disease may benefit from the soft robotic exosuit, Restore, as this was shown to improve mobility in patients who suffered a stroke.

Harvard published a study about the Restore exosuit in the journal Science Translational Medicine. The title was “A soft robotic exosuit improves walking in patients after stroke.

Like those with Parkinson’s, stroke patients often require assistance devices, such as ankle-foot braces to  improve their mobility. But their “walking remains highly impaired despite—and perhaps because of—their use,” the researchers wrote.

Researchers from Harvard’s Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering teamed up with Boston University researchers to see how well an exosuit could help stroke patients walk.

They tested the prototype, which was created at the institute, on nine people who were in a crucial phase of stroke recovery. The testing occurred when the nine were walking outside or on a treadmill.

The exosuit reduced by 32 percent the amount of energy the patients had to expend on walking, the researchers said.

Dr. Conor Walsh, founder of the Harvard Biodesign Lab, said the study “shows that soft wearable robots can have significant positive impact on gait functions” of those who have had a stroke. He praised the “multidisciplinary team of engineers, designers, biomechanists, physical therapists and most importantly patients who volunteered for this study and gave valuable feedback that guided our research.

Walsh, who was the study’s co-lead author, is the John L. Loeb associate professor of engineering and applied sciences at the Wyss Institute.

ReWalk is working with the institute to develop movement-enhancing devices that can be tested in clinical trials. The first commercial application will be for stroke survivors. In the near future, devices will also be available for those with MS, the company said.

“Exoskeletons are now a commercially available, disruptive technology that have changed the lives of many individuals in the paraplegic community,” said ReWalk CEO Larry Jasinski. “The ongoing research at the Wyss Institute on soft exosuits adds a new dimension to exoskeletons that can potentially meet the needs of individuals that have had a stroke, as well as for those diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease or people who have limitations in walking.”

He said the Restore suit has “a unique lightweight design that can assist and constantly adjust in real time to the user’s needs on every step they take.” The invention shows how research can be applied to “the everyday needs of this patient community,” he added.

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