April 15, 2024

Soft robotic garment beats Parkinson’s frostbite

Summary: Researchers use a soft, wearable robot to combat freezing, a common and debilitating symptom of Parkinson’s disease. The robot, which is worn around the hips and thighs, provides a gentle nudge during leg movements, helping patients achieve longer strides.

In a study involving a 73-year-old man with Parkinson’s, the device completely eliminated freezing during indoor walks, improving mobility and independence. The research highlights the potential of soft robotics to alleviate this challenging symptom and offers hope for improving mobility in Parkinson’s patients.

Key facts:

  1. Freezing is a common and problematic symptom of Parkinson’s disease, often leading to falls and reduced mobility.
  2. The soft, wearable robotics, which are worn around the hips and thighs, significantly improved walking and eliminated freezing in a Parkinson’s patient.
  3. This technology has the potential to improve mobility and independence for people living with Parkinson’s disease.

Fountain: harvard

Freezing is one of the most common and debilitating symptoms of Parkinson’s disease, a neurodegenerative disorder that affects more than 9 million people worldwide. When people with Parkinson’s disease freeze, they suddenly lose the ability to move their feet, often mid-stride, resulting in a series of choppy steps that become shorter until the person stops completely. These episodes are one of the biggest contributors to falls among people living with Parkinson’s disease.

Today, frostbite is treated with a variety of pharmacological, surgical, or behavioral therapies, none of which are particularly effective.

What if there was a way to stop freezing completely?

The robotic garment (above), which is worn around the hips and thighs, gently pushes the hips as the leg swings, helping the patient achieve a longer stride. Credit: Walsh/Harvard SEAS Biodesign Laboratory

Researchers from the Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS) and Boston University’s Sargent School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences have used a soft, wearable robot to help a person living with Parkinson’s to walk without freezing. The robotic garment, which is worn around the hips and thighs, gently pushes the hips as the leg swings, helping the patient achieve a longer stride.

The device completely eliminated freezing for participants while walking indoors, allowing them to walk faster and farther than they could without the aid of the garment.

“We found that just a small amount of mechanical assistance from our soft robotic clothing produced instantaneous effects and consistently improved gait across a variety of conditions for the individual in our study,” said Conor Walsh, Paul A. Maeder Professor of Applied Engineering and Technology. . Sciences at SEAS and corresponding co-author of the study.

The research demonstrates the potential of soft robotics to treat this frustrating and potentially dangerous symptom of Parkinson’s disease and could allow people living with the disease to regain not only their mobility but also their independence.

The research is published in Nature medicine.

For more than a decade, the Walsh Biodesign Laboratory at SEAS has been developing robotic assistive and rehabilitative technologies to improve the mobility of people who have suffered a stroke and those living with ALS or other diseases that affect mobility. Some of that technology, specifically an exosuit for gait retraining after stroke, was supported by the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering and licensed and commercialized by ReWalk Robotics.

In 2022, SEAS and Sargent College received a grant from the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative to support the development and translation of next-generation robotics and wearable technologies.

The research is centered on Move Lab, whose mission is to support advances in human performance improvement with the collaboration space, funding, R&D infrastructure and expertise needed to turn promising research into mature technologies that can be translated through Collaboration with industry partners.

This research arose from that association.

“Leveraging soft, wearable robots to prevent freezing of gait in Parkinson’s patients required a collaboration between engineers, rehabilitation scientists, physical therapists, biomechanists and clothing designers,” said Walsh, whose team collaborated closely with Terry Ellis’s. , professor and department of physiotherapy. President and Director of the Neurorehabilitation Center at Boston University.

The team spent six months working with a 73-year-old man with Parkinson’s disease who, despite using surgical and drug treatments, suffered substantial and disabling freezing episodes more than 10 times a day, causing him to frequently fall. These episodes prevented him from walking around his community and forced him to rely on a scooter to get around outside.

In previous research, Walsh and his team leveraged human optimization to demonstrate that a soft, wearable device could be used to increase hip flexion and assist in swinging the leg forward to provide an efficient approach to reducing energy expenditure by walk. in healthy individuals.

Here, the researchers used the same approach but to address freezing. The wearable device uses wire-driven actuators and sensors that are worn around the waist and thighs. Using the motion data collected by the sensors, the algorithms estimate the gait phase and generate assist forces along with muscle movement.

The effect was instantaneous. Without any special training, the patient could walk without freezing indoors and with only occasional episodes outdoors. He could also walk and talk without freezing, something unusual without the device.

“Our team was really excited to see the impact of the technology on the participants’ gait,” said Jinsoo Kim, a former doctoral student at SEAS and co-lead author of the study.

During the study visits, the participant told researchers: “The suit helps me take longer steps and when I’m not active I notice that I drag my feet a lot more. It has really helped me and I feel like it is a positive step forward. “It could help me walk longer and maintain the quality of my life.”

“Our study participants who volunteer their time are true partners,” Walsh said. “Because mobility is difficult, it was a real challenge for this person to even get into the lab, but we benefited a lot from his perspective and feedback.”

The device could also be used to better understand the mechanisms of gait freezing, something that is not well understood.

“Because we don’t really understand freezing, we don’t really know why this approach works so well,” Ellis said.

“But this work suggests the potential benefits of a ‘bottom-up’ rather than ‘top-down’ solution to treating freezing of gait. “We see that restoring near-normal biomechanics alters peripheral gait dynamics and may influence central processing of gait control.”

Money: The research was co-authored by Jinsoo Kim, Franchino Porciuncula, Hee Doo Yang, Nicholas Wendel, Teresa Baker and Andrew Chin. Asa Eckert-Erdheim and Dorothy Orzel also contributed to the design of the technology, and Ada Huang and Sarah Sullivan managed the clinical research. It was supported by the National Science Foundation under grant CMMI-1925085; the National Institutes of Health under NIH grant U01 TR002775; and the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative Research and Development Matching Grant.

About this news about Parkinson’s disease research and robotics

Author: Lea Burrows
Fountain: harvard
Contact: Leah Burrows-Harvard
Image: Image is credited to Walsh Biodesign Lab/Harvard SEAS.

Original research: The findings will appear in Nature medicine

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