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January 9, 2024

Harvard and Boston University Pioneer New Solution for Parkinson's Patients

These sensor sorcerers team up with mind-bending algorithms with a flick of their digital wands

Step into the future of assistive technology as Harvard and Boston University join forces to redefine the landscape of soft robotic exoskeletons. If you're a keen follower of robotic exoskeletons, you're likely familiar with the two primary categories – those catering to strenuous job demands and the assistive category for individuals with mobility impairments. Today, we unravel a groundbreaking study published in Nature Medicine, showcasing how soft robotic exoskeletons are addressing a specific challenge faced by those with Parkinson's disease.

Now in soft robotic exoskeletons, designed as day-to-day assistive accessories, a joint team from Harvard and Boston University introduces a game-changing solution. For individuals battling Parkinson's disease, the common challenge of "freezing" hampers mobility and increases the risk of falls. Traditional treatments like medication and physical therapy have limitations in addressing this issue. Enter soft robotic exoskeletons equipped with sensors and algorithms that revolutionize the walking experience.

Harvard professor Conor Walsh explains, "We found that just a small amount of mechanical assistance from our soft robotic apparel delivered instantaneous effects and consistently improved walking across a range of conditions for the individual in our study." The wearable technology detects movement, estimates the walker's gait, and deploys cable-driven actuators to assist mid-stride, offering a novel approach to tackling freezing episodes.

The research team collaborated with a 73-year-old Parkinson's patient experiencing freezing more than 10 times a day. Over six months, the soft robotic exoskeleton demonstrated remarkable results. The patient, without any specialized training, walked indoors without freezing and experienced only occasional episodes outdoors. The impact was transformative, allowing the patient to walk and talk without freezing – a rarity without the device.

Harvard notes, "The effect was instantaneous. Without any special training, the patient was able to walk without any freezing indoors and with only occasional episodes outdoors. He was also able to walk and talk without freezing, a rarity without the device."

As the Biodesign Lab, the visionary group behind an exosuit for stroke patients, continues to innovate, the early success of soft robotic exoskeletons for Parkinson's patients promises a new era in assistive technology. The potential commercialization of this technology could follow in the footsteps of their previous groundbreaking exosuit for stroke patients, opening doors to a transformative solution for individuals facing mobility challenges due to Parkinson's disease. The future of soft robotics is here, and it's reshaping the way we approach mobility assistance.

Neil Hodgson Coyle
Neil Hodgson-Coyle
Editorial chief at TechNews180
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