Robots help stroke victims regain use of limbs

Sept. 15, 2005
Stroke patients in clinical trials are regaining movement in less time thanks to robots developed by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

A research scientist in MIT's mechanical engineering dept. takes the Anklebot for a test walk on a treadmill.

Dustin Williams of Interactive Motion Technologies Inc., helps Hermano Igo Krebs, a principal research scientist at MIT, put on Anklebot, a robotic device for helping stroke victims regain movement in their ankles.

MIT pioneers in the field of robotic therapy hope a gym full of such machines targeting different parts of the body will significantly improve arm, wrist, hand, leg, and ankle movement.

MIT and the Baltimore Veterans Administration Medical Center have established the Center of Excellence on Task-Oriented Exercise and Robotics in Neurological Diseases to further the work.

Every year some 700,000 Americans suffer strokes. And, says Dr. Richard Macko, principal investigator for the new center, that number will double over the next 20 to 30 years as the population ages.

About 16 years ago, an MIT team developed a robot aimed at the recovery of the arm. They named it MIT-Manus for the link between its therapeutic focus and MIT's motto, mens et manus (mind and hand). For the last seven years, the team has reported positive results from six clinical trials involving almost 300 stroke patients.

In the MIT-Manus therapy, a person sitting at a table puts their lower arm and wrist into a brace attached to the robotic arm. A video screen prompts them for arm exercises such as connecting dots or drawing the hands of a clock. The robot provides variable levels of assistance. The MIT-Manus work answered a longstanding question among therapists by showing that manipulation of a stroke victim's disabled limb does indeed aid recovery of the limb's use. So now, the center aims to do for the lower extremities what it has done for the upper extremities. Recently, the team created a prototype for ankle therapy, dubbed Anklebot. By improving a patient's balance and joint movement, the robot should eliminate many of the falls that are common with stroke victims.

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