Exoskeleton, noninvasive spinal stimulation enables paralyzed man to voluntarily move legs

UCLA researchers recently reported that a 39-year-old man with chronic, complete paralysis was enabled to voluntarily move his legs and take steps while using a robotic exoskeleton.

Mark Pollock, who fell from a second-story window in 2010 and was paralyzed from the waist down, is the first person with complete paralysis to relearn voluntary leg movements without surgery, according to a university press release.

The researchers used a noninvasive spinal stimulation procedure in addition to physical training to help Pollock regain enough voluntary control to work with the battery-powered wearable bionic suit.

“It will be difficult to get people with complete paralysis to walk completely independently, but even if they do not accomplish that, the fact that they can assist themselves in walking will greatly improve their overall health and quality of life,” V. Reggie Edgerton, PhD, senior author of the research and UCLA distinguished professor of integrative biology and physiology, neurobiology and neurosurgery, said in the release.

Researchers used an exoskeleton created by Ekso Bionics that tracks the amount of movement created by the user, rather than just the movement created by the device. After Pollock received electrical stimulation, the data showed he was able to voluntarily assist the robot during the stepping, instead of allowing the device to do all the work.

“For people who are severely injured but not completely paralyzed, there is every reason to believe that they will have the opportunity to use these types of interventions to further improve their level of function. They are likely to improve even more,” Edgerton said. “We need to expand the clinical toolbox available for people with spinal cord injury and other diseases.”

Reference:  Edgerton VR, et al. Ann Phys Rehabil Med. 2015;doi: 10.1016/j.rehab.2015.05.003

Disclosure: Edgerton and co-author Yury Gerasimenko report they are shareholders in NeuroRecovery Technologies, the company providing the electric stimulator for this study. Edgerton is also the president and chair of the board for the company. Edgerton and Gerasimenko hold certain inventorship rights on intellectual property licensed by The Regents of the University of California to NeuroRecovery Technologies and its subsidiaries.

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