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Foundation Studies Robotic Arm-Wrist Assist Device

MyoPro device

MyoPro upper limb device (Myomo Inc.)

13 Mar. 2019. A not-for-profit foundation is evaluating a robotic device to help people with spinal cord injuries regain use of their arm, wrist, and hand after a spinal cord injury. The project by the Kessler Foundation in East Hanover, New Jersey is funded by a $500,000 award from the Department of Defense, Congressionally Directed Medical Research Programs. (no. W81XWH-18-1-0728)

Spinal cord injuries are often caused by a sudden, traumatic blow to the spine that bruises or tears into spinal cord tissue, resulting in fractures or compression to vertebrae, or in some cases severing the spinal cord. Depending on severity, people with spinal cord injuries often suffer loss of feeling or motor function in the limbs, and in some cases complete paralysis. According to the National Spinal Cord Injury Statistical Center, spinal cord injuries occur in 54 out of 1 million people in the U.S., adding some 17,500 new cases each year.

Among those with spinal cord injuries are many members of the armed services wounded in combat, who face long periods of rehabilitation after returning home. Kessler Foundation supports research on disabilities that result from neurological disorders, such as spinal cord injury, including studies by its own researchers. In this case, the Kessler team led by rehabilitation research specialist Ghaith Androwis is assessing a robotic device that aids people with spinal cord injury that still retain limited neural connections in their hands and wrists.

The device is the MyoPro, made by Myomo Inc. in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Myomo, with technology licensed from labs at MIT and Harvard Medical School, develops assistive robotics devices for people with neurological disorders or upper limb paralysis. The MyoPro is a powered brace that enables individuals to move their impaired hand, wrist, or arm. MyoPro has sensors that detect weakened nerve-muscle signals, called myoelectric signals, which are amplified and activate motors in the device to move the hand, wrist, or arm as desired.

The Kessler study is recruiting 30 individuals with spinal cord injuries but with limited arm, wrist, and hand functions for a clinical trial to test the MyoPro. All participants will receive 18 rehabilitation sessions over 6 weeks, with the individuals randomly assigned to receive wrist and hand therapy with the MyoPro, wrist and hand therapy with a static brace, or conventional rehabilitation with a static brace. The researchers are looking primarily for improvement in wrist and hand motor functions, but also for improvements in participants’ daily quality of life.

The Kessler Foundation and Department of Defense hope to gain evidence from the trial for guidance on the best use of devices like the MyoPro for returning service members with arm, wrist, and hand disabilities from spinal cord injury, or SCI. “This study will provide the data needed to expand the options for rehabilitation for veterans,” says Androwis in a Kessler Foundation statement, “and lay the foundation for the introduction of home-based strategies for improved recovery of hand and arm function in individuals with incomplete SCI.”

Science & Enterprise reported on Myomo — the name is an acronym for “my own motion” — when the company issued its initial public stock offering through equity crowdfunding in March 2017. Myomo completed its IPO in June 2017 and is now listed on the New York Stock Exchange. Among Myomo’s scientific advisors is Steven Kirshblum, the Kessler Foundation’s director of spinal cord injury rehabilitation.

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