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Robotic Therapy offers Natural Rewiring

MIT have released details of their work with robotic physiotherapy to help children suffering from the uncomfortable condition of cerebral palsy, and stroke victims, gain maximum control over their given physical body.

The video released by MIT with this development, should technically make this article a podcast format. However, the video, whilst included, is somewhat lacking on details.

According to Hermano Igo Krebs, principal research scientist in mechanical engineering and one of the project's leaders, they first started exploring the field of impairment reduction in the mid 1980s, long before the technology had matured enough to be truly helpful - its arguable that it still hasn't. However, its only in the last two-three years that technology, particularly robotics technology, has advanced to the point where such AI controlled machines have been a help to those without full body control, learn how to bypass the damaged control circuits in their brains.

"Robotic therapy can potentially help reduce impairment and facilitate neuro-development of youngsters with cerebral palsy," Krebs said in a release. "We started with stroke because it's the biggest elephant in the room, and then started to build it out to other areas, including cerebral palsy as well as multiple sclerosis, Parkinson's disease and spinal cord injury."

Even though a stroke kills many neurons, "the remaining neurons can very quickly establish new synapses or reinforce dormant synapses," said Krebs.

The team's suite of robots for shoulder-and-elbow, wrist, hand and ankle has been in clinical trials for more than 15 years with more than 400 stroke patients. The Department of Veterans Affairs has just completed a large-scale, randomized, multi-site clinical study with these devices.

The MIT team is focusing on improving cerebral palsy patients' ability to reach for and grasp objects. Patients handshake with the robot via a handle, which is connected to a computer monitor that displays tasks similar to those of simple video games.

In a typical task, the youngster attempts to move the robot handle toward a moving or stationary target shown on the computer monitor. If the child starts moving in the wrong direction or does not move, the robotic arm gently nudges the child's arm in the right direction. Children are focused on, because their brains are somewhat more plastic than those found in adults. There is basically increased chance of success with children, as their brains are still growing and much more naturally active in making new connections. The same practice would work in an adult, if it works in a child, but would take longer.

For this type of therapy to be effective, many repetitions are required -- at least 400 in an hour-long session.


Robotic therapy holds promise for cerebral palsy

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