How long paralysed with exoskeleton learning to walk again

People who are paraplegic after an accident can recover a part of their ability to walk in certain cases when the training begins early. Now succeeded by using Exoskeleton in patients, which could for years no longer move her legs.

Even people who are paraplegic for many years, have still chances to regain some mobility. It has revealed an international team led by Miguel Nicolelis of Duke University in Durham, North Carolina. Eight patients who were paralyzed since three to 13 years, trained for months in exoskeleton. Electro-mechanical suits, support the body movements.

 months of special training.
There is a reason for hope: even patients many years in a wheelchair sitting after an accident, can recapture a little agility through months of special training.

Nicolelis has furore 2014 with these devices, as the Julian Pinto paralyzed from the chest down in its exoskeleton at the opening of the World Cup in Brazil slowly went to a ball and entered against him. Nicolelis long with Gordon Cheng worked, Professor at the Institute of cognitive systems at the Technical University of Munich.

Training with VR goggles and avatar

The brains of people who are long time, literally write off no longer moving limbs. The paralytic can’t feel them, and of course he can’t move them also.

The participants of the walk again project made neuro feedback exercises with a VR glasses in the first step of the training. They learned to put an avatar alone with their thoughts. The computer moved the avatar when the brain signals were consistent with those for normal running.

walk again project 2016
Photo: Walk Again Project 2016

At the same time, the participants received tactile feedback on vibrators in the sleeves. “This feedback reinforces the illusion that they move their legs themselves and feel”, explained study leader of Nicolelis.

Brain waves control exoskeleton

In the second step of the training had the subjects on the treadmill. Stabilized by a carrying harness put her legs in a robotic exoskeleton, that they steered by their brain waves before the avatar. Then they learned the handling of a freestanding exoskeleton. This supports the body, is motorized and can go by EEG control. Also in this training phase, there’s haptic feedback through the sensor sleeve.

Walk Again Project

Improvements in all eight paralytic

The result impressed: All eight paraplegics partly regained conscious control over their legs, felt sensations below the spinal cord injury and could better control the bladder and bowel. “Never seen such a recovery these functions in so many years paralyzed”, says Nicolelis. “Even we had not predicted this outcome at the beginning of the project.”

Even a 32 year old woman who was paraplegic for 13 years, could again move their legs with the help of the exoskeleton after 13 months of training. The team suspects that some neural connections are intact in these patients. “These nerves can fall silent for many years, when a signal from the cortex to the muscles is missing”, says Nicolelis. The training have resurrected these nerves. The study was published in scientific reports now.

Success with paralytic in Bochum

Norbert Weidner of the University Hospital Heidelberg warns against exaggerated hopes. “It’s a big difference between reaching sensitive functions and regain the ability to walk,” he said to the German pharmacy newspaper. He could but imagine that the success in people who are not long paraplegic, are larger.

Researchers from the Bochum University Hospital have already proved that. A 34% can go back exercise (ZMB) with forearm rests after a workout at the nearby Centre for neuro robot. The nerves were not fully destroyed. The ZMB is that Japanese Exoskelettsystem HAL (Hybrid Assistive Limb).

Also in the Exoskeletten what’s happening. Improves comfort and functionality. An example of the new generation of medical exoskeletons is the model 6.0 of the company of ReWalk.