Hello everyone and Happy New Year! My team and I are currently working with Harvard iLabs on a suit that could enable people who lost the use of their legs because of a nerve disconnect to walk, and we would love your feedback on the concept. The idea is that we would make pants that have built-in electrodes that use electronic muscle stimulation to control various muscles and make the person walk. This would be controlled from a joystick or a control similar to that on a wheelchair, and when fully developed can enable one to control their legs to walk, turn, go up stairs, sit down, and possibly even run. This technology would be most effective for those who recently lost the use of their legs since it requires strong enough muscles to support their weight. Additionally, the pants would have built in sensors so there is a feedback loop that ensures balance. We would love to hear your opinions on this technology, any issues you foresee or just general comments. Thank you so much!
It’s nice to see that there are still people out there who would like to help us with this problem. For my part, being able to stand up and move enough to get from my wheelchair to the toilet, clean myself, stand up and get back in my wheelchair would be wonderful. I don’t need to run or even walk to be super-impressed with any standing at all. I am, however, personally stymied by an above-the-knee amputated leg. As far as strength goes, please keep in mind that while many have flaccid paralysis, some still have muscle tone and spasticity long after the initial injury. I am T9 incomplete. Though I can’t move my legs, they move on their own when activated by touch or certain position changes. Those involuntary movements are strong, and could even throw me out of my wheelchair on occassion, if I weren’t vigilant. What I’m trying to say is that some subjects who have old injuries could still have enough “muscle” for the purpose of effectively using your technology. I am an older female, and I also have clonus in my stump, so, sadly, I would be rejected for these experiments. But I will watch the progress of your tests with interest and wish you success.
Thanks for your reply! You bring up some good points, and the running and climbing stairs movements are quite ambitious, but being able to control walking and sitting down/getting up is our main goal at this point. We hope to make it as easy as just putting on special pants that can allow proper control, and eventually help those negatively affected by this type of disability regain independence.
Hello Nestor and Glad to see Harvard working with the spinal cord community. I trained with Re-walk for four months and it was really great. The cost of the unit is quite steep and unfortunately insurance will not cover them. Problems I had were the gait walk. They needed to adjust the speed of the gait. My other issue was falling down. No way to get back up unless you have a couple people with you. The unit had a weight of about 45 pounds. The other issue was the Ipad unit and watch to operate the unit. Sometimes it didn't work and they would have to do computer updates. I wish Harvard would work on Bowel and Bladder function and fire up some Neurons but the suit/legs are a start. Best wishes and Happy new Year!
Wow. The project (to use very technical terminology) sounds badass. I've always fancied the thought of being like Ironman. I've got a couple thoughts.
First, It seems that right now that your goal is to help people ambulate, as a way to restore a functional ability to their lives. One thing that you'll learn about most SCI folk is that there are lots of other functions that we would welcome back into our lives besides walking. In fact, and I know I'm not alone in this, I would give up walking altogether to get back certain functions (e.g., sex, bowel control, etc.).
Second, you mentioned that you would aim the product towards the newly injured. How do you define "newly injured?" The reason I ask is because there is a steep learning curve that all newly injured folk have to face. I'm assuming that you and your research partners are able bodied folk. As such, you may not realize that a newly injured person is learning how to do a lot of things that you may take for granted (e.g., how to use the bathroom, transfer from surfaces, get into a car, etc.). With that in mind, I imagine that adding one more task (i.e., learning how to operate the pants) could be fairly demanding.
With the above in mind, I still think that there are some uses for the pants. First, what about using them for muscle preservation? Second, what about using them as a training aid for people that are relearning how to walk?
Finally, and perhaps unrelatedly, I wonder how your technology might dovetail with future developments in SCI research. The possibilities sound fairly promising!