Tag Archives: spinal cord injury research

Exoskeletons and More

Technology is becoming an important player in the quest to help people with spinal cord injuries regain function. Exoskeletons are a key component of this quest. Recently having been approved by the FDA, these assistive walking devices are finally becoming accepted by the medical community.

Many people with spinal cord injuries dream of one day getting an exoskeleton approved for home use. However, most insurance companies are still hesitant to approve exoskeletons, forcing many to raise the funds for one on their own. Learn more about exoskeletons for people with spinal cord injuries below.

How They Work

Powered by steel and electricity, an exoskeleton helps people with paralysis stand up and walk. Many refer to exoskeletons as ‘bionic legs.’ Most paraplegics are able to use an exoskeleton, and some quadriplegics can use them too, depending on their overall mobility. Each exoskeleton has a battery pack that powers the machine for several hours. Enabling people to stand up and look someone in the eye, exoskeletons can help people with spinal cord injuries in social situations, but they can help in many other ways as well.

Many people want an exoskeleton so they can be independent at home. Exoskeletons can help people be independent and active in their community, too, which is beneficial due to the frequency of wheelchair-accessibility issues in public places. They also help people return to a career that may require standing. An exoskeleton gives people the freedom they once had to move independently and without obstacles. Expect to see more exoskeletons in the public in the coming years.

How to Get an Exoskeleton

In 2014, the FDA approved the first exoskeleton for personal use: the ReWalk Personal System. This design integrates a wearable brace support, a computer control system, and motion sensors, which is now the standard design for most exoskeletons. This exoskeleton comes from Israel and costs $70,000.

If you are a veteran, you have a higher probability of getting an insurance-approved exoskeleton. The VA recently announced its intentions to approve exoskeleton payments up to $50,000. To get an exoskeleton approved for home use, you will need a physical therapist and a doctor with great writing skills to write a persuasive letter about your medical needs, detailing why an exoskeleton would be essential in your daily life.

Although not many people have had been approved for exoskeletons yet, things are slowly starting to change. Also, it never hurts to try!. If your insurance turns you down at first, you can always appeal the decision. You can try doing an online crowdsourcing fundraiser, as well, to raise money for your exoskeleton.

Exoskeleton Manufacturers

There are several exoskeleton manufacturers around the world. Here are the most reputable manufacturers to consider when looking at exoskeletons for people with spinal cord injuries:

– ReWalk Personal System: Designed in Europe and Israel, this was the first exoskeleton approved by the FDA. The wearer must use crutches to operate it. A ReWalk Person System costs approximately $70,000. https://rewalk.com/

– Ekso Bionics: Designed and sold in California, this exoskeleton was approved by the FDA in 2016 and ranges from $75,000 to $80,000 in cost. Ekso Bionics has reported that with continued use of their product, people have improved their overall balance, gate, and fluidity. Crutches are required to use this exoskeleton, as well. https://eksobionics.com/eksohealth/

– Parker Indego: A lower limb exoskeleton made for paraplegics with full torso control, this exoskeleton has also been approved by the FDA. Parker Indego is also supplying exoskeletons to the Department of Defense for a study on exoskeleton benefits in a rehabilitation setting. Crutches are required for use. http://www.indego.com/indego/en/home

– REX Bionics: The only exoskeleton on the market that does not require crutches is the REX exoskeleton from Australia. People with severe disabilities are able to use this exoskeleton, as it is completely self-supporting and is operated using a joystick. Currently, this exoskeleton is not approved by the FDA for home use, but it is approved for clinical use in the United States. The approximate cost is $150,000. https://www.rexbionics.com/

– Hybrid Assistive Limb: Also known as HAL, this exoskeleton is currently only available in Japan and is for people with paraplegia to use in their day-to-day life. https://www.cyberdyne.jp/english/products/HAL/index.html

More:

– Watch: ReWalk exoskeleton device. walking after 12 years https://spinalpedia.com/video/W9JRPBK81Am

– Watch: EMG-Driven Hand Exoskeleton for SCI Patients: Maestro https://spinalpedia.com/video/OvzRa6J5DrQ

– Read our blog: Most Afforable Walking Exoskeleton To-Date Debuts https://spinalpedia.com/blog/2016/02/affortable-walking-exoskeleton-date-debuts/

Epidural Stimulation

If you have a spinal cord injury in 2019, there is a reason to be excited: new research shows that epidural stimulation can significantly help people with spinal cord injuries regain movement and sensation. Accidentally discovered to have the ability to treat spinal cord injuries by Dr. Susan Harkema at the University of Louisville Kentucky, epidural stimulation has helped dozens of people with spinal cord injuries across the country stand and take steps, as well as experience a return of important autonomic functions such as bladder and bowel control, sexual function, and temperature regulation.

How Does It Work?

Epidural stimulation involves the application of a continuous electrical current to the lower part of the spinal cord. When taking part in epidural stimulation, the person with paralysis has a chip implanted into their dura (the protective coating of the spinal cord) and a remote is utilized to communicate with the chip, which then controls the frequency and intensity of the electrical current. When the stimulator is turned on, people with paralysis can notice results like increased movement; however, many are reporting that their epidural stimulation results are long-lasting, even when the stimulator is turned off.

The first person with a spinal cord injury to undergo epidural stimulation was Rob Summersin 2009. Rob, a former professional baseball player, can now stand and coach baseball even with the stimulator turned off. Researchers were shocked by his immense progress since the stimulation, and they have continued to be shocked by similar cases across the country over the past ten years.

Where is it Available?

Epidural stimulation has been so successful that facilities across the country have taken on the research as well, including the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. In 2018, the first case of independent walking induced by epidural stimulation was reported by this Mayo Clinic in a 29-year old paraplegic. The subject used a walker to walk across a pathway independently when the stimulator was activated.

The Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation is currently utilizing 36 subjects with spinal cord injuries in an epidural simulation trial called The Big Idea. This Foundation is trying to recreate Dr. Harkema’s original results based on her first four subjects. To learn more about The Big Idea, visit https://www.reevebigidea.org

Researchers at UCLA are also partaking in epidural stimulation trials. Researchers from universities across the country are increasingly taking part in epidural stimulation research. If you would like to participate in epidural stimulate, consider asking the university nearest you to look into starting epidural stimulation research.

– Watch: The Big Idea: Epidural Stimulation Research for SCI https://spinalpedia.com/video/obW1qBa6yqd 

– Watch: Epidural Stimulation Research for Spinal Cord Injury Recovery https://spinalpedia.com/video/KmrDMnZm12Xb