Wearable soft robot for arm rehabilitation for people with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis

Soft robotic wearable for arm rehabilitation for people with ALS

This soft robotic wearable has the potential to significantly aid upper arm and shoulder movement in people with ALS. Credit: Walsh Laboratories, Harvard SEAS

About 30,000 people in the United States are affected by amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, a neurodegenerative condition that damages cells in the brain and spinal cord essential for movement.

Now, a team of researchers from the Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS) and Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) have developed a wearable soft robot capable of providing assistance. significantly. upper arm and shoulder movements in people with ALS.

“This study gives us hope that wearable soft robotic technology can help us develop new devices that are able to restore capabilities,” said Conor Walsh, lead author of the study. limb function in people with ALS and other diseases that deprive the patient of mobility”. Medical science translation group work report. Walsh is the Paul A. Maeder Professor of Engineering and Applied Science at SEAS, where he leads the Harvard Biodesign Laboratory.

Soft-supported prototype, fabric-based and wirelessly powered by batteries.

“In essence, the technology is quite simple,” said Tommaso Proietti, first author of the paper and a former postdoctoral fellow at Walsh’s lab where the wearable is designed and built. simple. “It’s basically a shirt with some inflatable ball-like actuators under the armpit. The pressurized ball helps the wearer fight gravity to move their upper arms and shoulders.”

To assist patients with ALS, the team developed a sensor system that detects residual arm motion and calibrates the appropriate pressure of the ball actuator to move the person’s arm smoothly. tru and natural. The researchers recruited ten people living with ALS to assess how well the device could extend or restore their movement, and life quality.

The team found that the wearable soft robot—after a 30-second calibration process to detect each wearer’s unique mobility and strength—improved the participants’ range of motion. research, reducing muscle fatigue and increasing performance on tasks such as holding or reaching for objects. It took participants less than 15 minutes to learn how to use the device.

“In essence, these systems are also very safe because they are made of fabric and inflatable balloons,” says Proietti. “Contrary to the traditional rigid robot, when the soft robot fails, it means the balloon no longer inflates. But the wearer is not at risk of being injured by the robot.”

Walsh says the wearable is soft on the body, giving it a clothing-like feel. “Our vision is that these robots will act like clothing and be comfortable to wear for long periods of time,” he said.

Soft robotic wearable for arm rehabilitation for people with ALS

A balloon actuator attached to a wearable will move the person’s arm smoothly and naturally. Credit: Walsh Laboratories, Harvard SEAS

His team is collaborating with neuroscientist David Lin, director of MGH’s Neurorehabilitation Clinic, on rehabilitation apps for stroke patients. The group also sees broader applications of the technology including people with spinal cord injury or muscular dystrophy.

“As we work to develop new disease treatments that will last longevityIt is imperative to also develop tools that can improve patient independence with daily activities“, Sabrina Paganoni, one of the paper’s co-authors, is a physician-scientist at MGH’s Healey & AMG Center for ALS and an associate professor at Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital/Harvard Medical School .

The current prototype developed for ALS is only capable of working on study participants who still have some residual motion in their shoulder area. However, ALS often progresses rapidly over two to five years, leaving the patient unable to move—and eventually unable to speak or swallow. In partnership with MGH neuroscientist Leigh Hochberg, principal investigator of the BrainGate Neural Interface System, the team is exploring potential versions of assistive wearables whose motion could be controlled by signals in the brain. They hope such a device could one day aid movement in patients who no longer have any muscle activity.

Proietti said the feedback from participants in the ALS study was inspiring, moving and motivating.

“Look people in the eye as they perform tasks and experience movement with their wearable, hear their feedback that they’re overjoyed to suddenly move their arms in a way they couldn’t. can do for years, it’s a very bittersweet feeling.”

The team hopes the technology will begin to improve people’s lives, but they warn that they are still in the research phase, several years away from commercial product introduction.

“Soft robotic wearables are an important advance on the path to real rehabilitation for people with ALS. We are grateful to all those living with ALS who participated in this study: only through their generous efforts can we make progress and develop new technologies,” said Paganoni.

Harvard’s Office of Technology Development defended Intellectual Property arising from this research and are exploring commercialization opportunities.

Other authors include Ciaran O’Neill, Lucas Gerez, Tazzy Cole, Sarah Mendelowitz, Kristin Nuckols and Cameron Hohimer.

More information:
Tommaso Proietti et al., Arm rehabilitation with a wearable soft robot for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, Medical science translation (2023). DOI: 10.1126/scitranslmed.add1504

quote: Soft robotic wearable for arm rehabilitation for people with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (2023, February 4) retrieved February 4, 2023 from 2023-02-soft-robotic-wearable-arm-function.html

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