Paralysis Victims' Brains Rewired For Movement - InformationWeek

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4/13/2007
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Paralysis Victims' Brains Rewired For Movement

MIT researchers test device that helps paralyzed stroke victims move again.

Researchers at MIT have come up with a robotic brace that's helping people with paralysis rewire their brains to regain movement. Six patients at MIT's Clinical Research Center and Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital who tested the device have achieved an average of 23% improvement in arm function, MIT reports.

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The device senses electrical muscle activity and then powers the actual movement through a built-in motor. It helps close the feedback loop between brain intention and actual limb movement that's believed to be a key component in recovering motor skills after paralysis. One patient fully bent and straightened her arm after 16 sessions.

"It was incredible to be able to move my arm again on command," says Maggie Fermental, a 32-year-old stroke survivor. "Cooking, dressing, shopping, turning on light switches, opening cabinets; it's easier now that I have two arms again."

Fermental was paralyzed on one side and received routine therapy for 18 months, then used the brace 18 times in nine weeks. The portable, slip-on device uses electromyography to detect electrical activity in contracting muscles' cells. It sends the data to a motor that responds by initiating, controlling, and completing the movement. The process helps neurons rewire themselves for movement.

Power Assist
"Without the device, many of the individuals we tested were simply unable to complete the movement, and thus had no practical way to improve their performance through practice," says Dr. Joel Stein, researcher, chief medical officer, and medical director of the Stroke Program at Spaulding.

By using the brace's "power assist" function to complete intended movements for users, patients can improve performance through practice, Stein says. "The device acts as a facilitator of the innate capability of the human brain to improve function through practice."

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