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Wearable System Devised for Stroke Rehab at Home

Stroke rehab jacket

Jacket with sensors for stroke rehabilitation (New York University)

22 June 2016. Two engineering students designed a wearable system connected to a smartphone that enables stroke patients to perform some of their rehabilitation program at home. The team from the lab of New York University engineering professor Vikram Kapila won a top prize at a recent biomedical technology competition, and the student inventors are forming a company to take their system to market.

Stroke occurs when blood flow to the brain is interrupted, cutting the oxygen needed by brain cells to function. The vast majority (85%) of strokes are caused by blood clots, while many other strokes are caused by blood vessel leakage in the brain. Nearly 800,000 people in the U.S. have a stroke each year, with paralysis and weakness in the limbs among the results. Recovery, often in rehabilitation clinics, can take months or years of continuous exercises.

Kapila’s lab studies mechatronics, a field combining mechanical engineering and computer science, with a wide range of applications, including biomedical. Graduate students Ashwin Raj Kumar and Sai Prasanth Krishnamoorthy are seeking to provide stroke patients effective ways of performing rehabilitation exercises, while reducing their dependence on visiting rehab clinics. To meet this need, the students are developing a virtual-reality gaming system, with devices worn by the patient connected to a smartphone that provides instant feedback.

Their system consists of a jacket sensing arm orientation, and a glove to sense wrist and finger joint angles. Microcontrollers in the device measure the movements of the arms, hands, and fingers, offering quantifiable progress results for physical therapists and physicians, as well as motivational feedback for the patient. The exercises are performed as part of a training course structured in a virtual reality experience.

“Smartphone-integrated stroke rehabilitation is a marked improvement over the conventional treatment programs of the past,” says Kapila in a university statement. “Providing patients with immediate feedback and placing that feedback in the context of a virtual reality game that they can use within their own homes is definitely encouraging and motivational.”

Raj Kumar and Krishnamoorthy worked with rehabilitation physician Preeti Raghavan at NYU medical center to design the system and build a working prototype, which they entered in the 2016 BMEidea biomedical engineering competition. Entries in the contest must meet an immediate clinical need and are judged on their feasibility, contribution to health, and commercial potential. The winners, announced last week, included the NYU team that took third place and an award of $2,500.

The inventors believe they can develop a commercial product that can sell for under $1,000, which would compete against devices now selling for 8 times that amount. A patent has been filed for the technology, and Raj Kumar and Krishnamoorthy are forming a company to develop a marketable product in NYU’s start-up business incubator.

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