Exoskeleton could make paralyzed walk again - My9 New Jersey

Exoskeleton could make paralyzed walk again

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NEW JERSEY (MYFOXNY.COM) -

Breakthroughs for treating people who are paralyzed have been happening at a remarkable pace.

Cindy Cullinane has spent the past 13 years in a wheelchair after losing most of her leg function in a car accident. But what she's about to do is truly remarkable: stand and walk.

Cullinane is using what's called an exoskeleton. It has motors at the hips, knees and sensors underneath the foot pedals. For the first time in more than a decade, she can put one foot in front of the other, without any pain.

"Once you're standing up, the world is so much better up here," Cullinane says.

She is one of thirteen patients participating in a three-year study at the Kessler Foundation in West Orange, N.J.

Patients have one-hundred sessions with the exoskeleton and Dr. Gail Forrest tracks their progress.

"We are measuring such things as her muscle, determining what the change in her bone density is, and her overall health while functioning in the robot," Dr. Forrest, Assistant Director Human Performance and Engineering Research, says.

With a Walker Cindy can only take one to 12 steps a day, but when she uses the exoskeleton she can walk about 2-thousand steps in about an hour and a half.

"It takes down the swelling in my legs from sitting in the chair, make the digestion better for me, mentally, mentally I couldn't even tell you what it does for me," Cullinane says.

An exoskeleton debuted at a charity walk for spinal injury awareness in Manhattan in November 2013.

If things go according to plan, a new exoskeleton will make its debut at the World Cup in Brazil in June.

If Brazilian-born neuroscientist, Dr. Miguel Nicolelis, gets his way, a paralyzed young adult will get out of a wheelchair and kick a soccer ball during the opening ceremonies with the help of an exoskeleton.

He created a robot that taps signals from the brain to operate prosthetic limbs.  It was first proven successful with a monkey controlling the limbs of a robot via its brain.

Dr. Steven Kirshblum is the Kessler Institute for Rehabilitation Medical Director.

"Our thoughts are changing to electrical signals which can then control an external robot," Dr. Kirshblum says.

He says displaying a new exoskeleton on the world stage, could help make wheelchairs obsolete.

"Think of it, whenever you want to walk, you're not consciously thinking about it but your brain is telling the limbs what to do," Dr. Kirshblum says. "In the case of a spinal cord injury, the message is still there, the brain still wants to walk but is unable to because the message is cut so the communication is cut. Now the message can bypass the damage area because it's connected to a computer that controls the limbs through the exoskeleton and allows the patient to walk in this device."

Exoskeletons are only available to rehabilitation centers and cost close to $150,000. Experts hope that cost will come down as the technology becomes more widespread.

"The hope for the future is it will allow people back to their homes and back to their community and be more independent in their mobility," Dr. Kirshblum says.

The tests have Cullinane smiling.

"If I had one of these suits at home I could do so many things at home by myself it would be so much better," Cullinane says.

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