Robotic device created at the University of Houston helps stroke patients rehabilitate

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Nearly 800,000 people in the United States suffer a stroke each year – and the affliction affects each patient differently. A University of Houston researcher has created a device that dramatically improves the lives of patients whose strokes have affected motor skills.

UH engineering professor Jose Luis Contreras-Vidal has developed a next-generation robotic arm that can be controlled by the user’s brainwaves. The wearable device uses a brain-computer interface (BCI) developed by Contreras-Vidal. Oswald Reedus, 66, a stroke victim, is the first person to use such a device.

Reedus lost the use of his left arm following a stroke which also caused aphasia or difficulty speaking. While he was able to recover his ability to speak clearly, the new exoskeleton will help rehabilitate his arm.

When attached to the non-invasive device, the user’s brain activity is translated into motor commands to power upper limb robotics. As patients like Reedus use the device, more data is collected to improve the experience.

“If I can pass on anything to help the life of someone who has had a stroke, I will. For me, that’s my purpose in life now,” Reedus said in a UH press release. His mother and younger brother both died of strokes, and Reedus is determined to help the device that can help other stroke patients recover.

Contreras-Vidal, a distinguished professor of Hugh Roy and Lillie Cranz Cullen, took his device from ideation to home use, such as with Reedus, as well as clinical trials at TIRR Memorial Hermann. The project is funded in part by an $813,999 grant from the National Science Foundation’s New Translational Impacts Division.

“Our project addresses a pressing need for accessible, safe and effective stroke rehabilitation devices for use in the clinic and at home for long-term sustainable therapy, a global market currently estimated to be $31 billion in size. “, says Contreras-Vidal in The version. “Unfortunately, current devices fail to engage patients, are difficult to adapt to their needs and abilities, are expensive to operate and maintain, or are limited to clinical settings.”

Dr. Gerard E. Francisco, chief medical officer and director of the Neuro Recovery Research Center at TIRR Memorial Hermann, is leading clinical trials of the device. He is also Chairman and Professor in the Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation at McGovern Medical School at UTHealth Houston. He explains that TIRR’s partnership with engineering schools such as Cullen College of Engineering at UH and others across the country is strategic.

“It’s really exciting because what we know now is that there are so many ways to induce neuroplasticity or stimulate recovery,” Francisco says in the release. “This collaboration is going to give birth to many of these breakthrough technologies and innovations that we can bring to our patients.”

Both parts of the device – a part that attaches to the patient’s head and a part attached to their arm – are non-invasive. Photo courtesy of UH

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