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Using Robots For Home-Based Stroke Rehab

Army Medicine

Researchers from the University of Houston have invented a new robotic system that is controlled directly by the user’s brain. Scientists believe this system could one day be used to help patients recovering from strokes and other serious brain injuries. Researchers hope to make their design available for commercialization soon.

The system works by capturing specific electrical activity in the brain. This activity can then be translated into robotic movements. The system relies on algorithms that can decide the movement intent thanks to patterned brain activity. The original version of this system required users to wear a skull cap equipped with sensors, but researchers are working on a simpler and more streamlined design for home use.

The device is modeled loosely off of a basic rowing machine. The initial design will focus primarily on the upper limbs in terms of rehabilitation. Scientists believe it will promote plasticity in the brain and lead to the restoration of motor functions. Should the upper limb design prove a success, a system focused on the lower limbs will next be created. This could potentially help users to regain the ability to walk after a brain injury.

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The team behind the design includes health care providers, and industry experts. Researchers hope to fast-track this technology and get it approved by the Federal Drug Administration as a viable and inexpensive treatment for stroke victims. The research was backed by a $750,000 grant courtesy of the National Science Foundation’s Partnerships for Innovation Program.

“We want to break that wall between the lab and home. We want to build a system that can be used at home with FDA approval.”

Jose Luis Contreras-Vidal, professor of electrical and computer engineering at UH and co-director of the Building Reliable Advances and Innovation in Neurotechnology (BRAIN) Center, a NSF-supported Industry/University Collaborative Research Center based at UH and Arizona State University

While early results have been very positive, the system has a long way to go before it is ready for the FDA to approve it. All demonstrations have taken place in very controlled environmental settings. Additionally, the system has yet to be approved for use in patient’s homes or clinics.

Researchers intend to continue rigorously testing the new system, and plan to make it extremely user friendly so that it can be easily utilized in the home. Experts believe this technology could also be used in virtual reality games and an assortment of consumer electronics.

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