Soft Robotic Exosuit Helps Stroke Survivors Rehabilitate
Denrie Caila Perez posted on May 25, 2020 |
A new soft ankle wearable can potentially combat hemiparesis in stroke survivors.
The soft robotic exosuit is worn by stroke patients on the hemiparetic side of their bodies. (Image courtesy of Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences.)
The soft robotic exosuit is worn by stroke patients on the hemiparetic side of their bodies. (Image courtesy of Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences.)

A new soft robotic exosuit could potentially assist individuals recovering from stroke. An ankle-assisting wearable connected to an external battery and motor was used in the initial stages to support rehabilitating stroke patients while they performed on a treadmill. The biomechanical gait function of patients significantly improved just from using the device. The research team recently moved to the next stage by working toward a rehabilitation-focused strategy and created an untethered version of the device.

The new device carries its own battery and motor, making it mobile for stroke patients even outside of physical therapy settings. It weighs less than five kilograms and is powered by a battery and is initiated by an actuator unit that can be worn at the hips. The device targets the limbs during phases of the gait cycle and delivers mechanical power to the ankles through a cable-based system that is attached to the patient’s body. Instead of using rigid materials, the exosuit uses lightweight functional textiles.

The team from the Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS), Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering, and Boston University’s College of Health & Rehabilitation Sciences, Sargent College specifically designed the exosuit to assist with plantar flexion—the ankle movement that pushes the foot down toward the ground during the stance phase of the gait cycle. The device also helps with dorsiflexion—the action when the foot is lifted up and the toes are pulled toward the shin during the swing phase of the gait cycle.

This soft robotic exosuit can potentially address the hemiparetic walking and “drop foot” typically associated with stroke survivors. The device was tested on six hemiparetic individuals with distinct severities and impairments who were asked to perform a series of activities on a 30-meter walkway. According to the report, the researchers observed “important and immediate improvements in walking speed and distance.”

The team expressed their optimism for the future of the technology.

“Our engineering and clinical teams at Harvard and Boston University are highly motivated by these results to refine the technology and study its immediate impact in stroke survivors with a wide range of walking abilities. We are also eager to explore therapeutic applications in both clinical settings and day-to-day walking in the home and community,” said Lou Awad of the Wyss Institute.

The complete findings can be found in the IEEE Open Journal of Engineering in Medicine and Biology (OJEMB).


For more news and stories, check out how this stingray soft robot uses heart cells for movement here.


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