Exoskeleton, Spinal Stimulation Help Paralyzed Man Voluntarily Control Legs

Mark Pollock was paralyzed in 2010 after falling from a second-story window. Today, with the help of an Ekso Bionics exoskeleton and spinal stimulation, he can voluntarily assist the exoskeleton while taking steps.


A 39-year-old man who had been completely paralyzed for four years was able to voluntarily control his leg muscles and take thousands of steps in an exoskeleton.

Mark Pollock, who lost his sight in 1998 and later became the first blind man to race to the South Pole, fell from a second-story window in 2010 and suffered a spinal cord injury that left him paralyzed from the waist down. With help from researchers at UCLA, Pollock uses an exoskeleton from Richmond, California-based Ekso Bionics that captures data to determine how much the Pollock is moving his own limbs, as opposed to being aided by the exoskeleton.

According to UCLA, the data showed Pollock was actively flexing his left knee and raising his left leg. In addition to the exoskeleton, Pollock also receives noninvasive spinal stimulation technique that allowed him to voluntarily assist the exoskeleton while taking steps.

At UCLA, Pollock made substantial progress after receiving a few weeks of physical training without spinal stimulation and then just five days of spinal stimulation training in a one-week span, for about an hour a day.

“In the last few weeks of the trial, my heart rate hit 138 beats per minute,” Pollock says. “This is an aerobic training zone, a rate I haven’t even come close to since being paralyzed while walking in the robot alone, without these interventions. That was a very exciting, emotional moment for me, having spent my whole adult life before breaking my back as an athlete.”

The research was published by the IEEE Engineering in Medicine and Biology Society, the world’s largest society of biomedical engineers.

“It will be difficult to get people with complete paralysis to walk completely independently, but even if they don’t accomplish that, the fact they can assist themselves in walking will greatly improve their overall health and quality of life,” says V. Reggie Edgerton, senior author of the research and a UCLA distinguished professor of integrative biology and physiology, neurobiology and neurosurgery.

“For people who are severely injured but not completely paralyzed, there’s every reason to believe that they will have the opportunity to use these types of interventions to further improve their level of function. They’re likely to improve even more,” Edgerton says. “We need to expand the clinical toolbox available for people with spinal cord injury and other diseases.”



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