New Exoskeleton Helps Children With Spinal Muscular Atrophy Walk


About 1 in 10,000 children is affected by spinal muscular atrophy (SMA), a genetic, degenerative disease that attacks the nervous system and weakens muscles, often leading to serious mobility issues. While there's no cure for SMA, scientists at the El Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas (CSIC) in Madrid have recently unveiled a project designed to give children with the disease the ability to stand and walk again.

The adjustable, robotic exoskeleton is made out of aluminum and titanium, and attaches to the body with a harness and straps at various points on the legs. A computer is connected to five motors in each leg of the device that work in tandem as the user's artificial muscles. The wearer controls the exoskeleton, thanks to highly sensitive sensors that detect and respond to the wearer's smallest muscular movements, and then execute them. The exoskeleton's battery lasts for five hours on a single charge, which can provide more time for muscle training therapy.

"The number one drawback in developing this type of pediatric exoskeleton is that the symptoms of neuromuscular illnesses—such as spinal muscular atrophy—change over time, as much in the articulations as in the body," Elena Garcia of CSIC said in a statement. "It’s fundamental to have an exoskeleton capable of independently adapting to these changes. Our model includes intelligent joints, which alter the brace’s rigidity automatically and adapt to the symptoms of each individual child at whenever required."

The patented technology is currently in the preclinical phase, so it's not available to everyone just yet. But with the project, the team hopes to begin to help patients with SMA stand upright and walk—an ability that not only helps in an immediate sense, but also serves to stave off scoliosis and other complications common to those who've lost mobility.

[h/t Laughing Squid]

Images courtesy of CSIC