RIC Explores New Walking Technology - Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago

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RIC Researchers Explore Promising New Robotic Technology

New lightweight and smart robotic technology now makes it possible for people with paralysis to stand up and walk. Researchers at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago (RIC) have joined a small but selective group of international experts to test a robotic “exoskeleton” device in the clinical setting to determine how to make it viable for daily use by individuals.

Translating technology to advance patient ability

2012 has proven to be a watershed year for firms that create battery-powered robotic devices that can be strapped over the user’s clothing to support body weight, move the legs, and induce functional walking. The field is now developing fast, with entrepreneurial companies producing early-stage robotic walking devices and competing aggressively for user and market advantages. 

At RIC, researchers are partnering with one such leading entrepreneurial company, Ekso Bionics, and playing a pivotal role—identifying design enhancements that will make this novel technology safe and effective for use in the daily lives of individuals with paralysis.

“Of the several devices introduced just this year, we think the Ekso™ product has the most potential,” said lead researcher Arun Jayaraman, PT, PhD, director of the Rehabilitation Technologies & Outcomes Lab at RIC’s Center for Bionic Medicine. “Our clinical trials look at the many human factors important in the design of a device, and we have deep expertise in testing how safe, reliable, and effective new devices are for patients with lost or reduced function.”

The ability to join the crowd

Among the research volunteers is Darline Abesamis. On a business trip to New Orleans in 2010, she was riding in a car with colleagues when the driver fell asleep at the wheel. Their car rolled over, fracturing Darline’s spine and at the age of 25, she became paralyzed from the waist down. Now, two years later, Darline has volunteered for Jayaraman’s study.

“Just hearing about this study was exciting, but the day I first put on the Ekso device, it was pure bliss! I was standing up, seeing eye-to-eye with my boyfriend, my therapist, everyone in the room. I could stand in a crowd and converse and engage, just like I used to do,” she said. “And I cried. I never imagined I could ever do these things again, but this device made it happen.”

The Ekso study is one example of how scientists at RIC are leveraging technology to accelerate more promising treatments that Advance Human Ability. RIC has the largest portfolio of rehabilitation research activities in the world. Ranked #1 by the National Institutes of Health, RIC has more than 300 active research projects underway and is the only rehabilitation hospital with seven federal research designations.