The Human body is far from perfect. There are a lot of flaws both on a genetic as well as physical level. That has, however, never been a hindrance to what we can achieve as a species. From mega-structures and precise instruments to superfast vehicles, we have used machines to perform tasks that were not physically possible. Nowadays, machines are being used to help paraplegics recover from their afflictions.
An exoskeleton is defined as ‘an artificial external supporting structure.’ They are fitted to the human body and help perform tasks that require both super-strength and highly precise movements. While exoskeletons are expensive, they have been especially popular in large industrial complexes that are comfortably able to afford them. The recent past has seen them used alongside Virtual Reality (VR) technology to help train the brains of people affected by paralysis, enabling movement and improving the sensory condition of their limbs. An exoskeleton suit consists of hydraulics that functions as movable joints, with wires and pumps connected to them. While not resembling a humanoid form, it is designed to fit around the human body.
In a rehabilitation study involving eight paraplegic patients, amazing recoveries have been observed. After working with a robotic exoskeleton, virtual reality, and a brain-machine interface, patients showed renewed signs of movement and sensation in the lower halves of their bodies. Some of the patients have even resumed walking with assistance. Medically speaking, they have been shifted from being classified as completely paralyzed to being labeled as incompletely paralyzed. The lead author of the study, Miguel Nicolelis of Duke University, has also made clear that further training and improvement is still possible and has described this as a very important milestone in medical research.
The initial scope of the study was aimed at enabling robot-assisted movement in paralyzed patients. The brain-machine interface, which has been completely developed in-house, is designed to intercept brain signals related to motion. They are then converted into electric commands for the fitted exoskeletons. When attached to an immersive virtual reality, patients are trained to imagine themselves moving and walking in their robotic exoskeletons. It was only after a period of seven months that researchers noticed a recovery of the nervous systems of all patients, without exception. The exoskeleton and VR training seems to have galvanized this recovery.
Miguel Nicolelis says that it is the first time a study has documented such a recovery. Further, exhaustive research is required to study the recovery among patients and only if these findings are consistent can we have more varied research in the area of VR and exoskeleton based rehabilitation. We’re looking at a future in which patients can completely recover using a combination of brain training and stem cell injections.
Source – AASDAP, Lente Viva Filmes