A robotic device, along with spinal stimulation, has reportedly helped a paralyzed man move his legs and take thousands of steps, according to a media release from the University of California – Los Angeles.

The patient—Mark Pollack, 39, a blind man who had been completely paralyzed from the waist down for 4 years as the result of an accident—wore a “robotic skeleton” device during 5 days of training and for 2 weeks afterward, a research team from UCLA report in the release.

This device reportedly enabled him to control his leg muscles so that he could take thousands of steps, the media release reports.

Along with the device, Pollack underwent a noninvasive spinal stimulation technique that, per the release, does not require surgery. This technique, combined with the skeleton device, is what enabled the “walking” movements.

The release explains that the “robotic skeleton” is a battery-powered wearable bionic suit that enables people to move their legs in a step-like fashion. Researchers note in the release, however, that they would not describe these leg movements as “walking,” because no patient who is completely paralyzed has been able to walk independently in the absence of the robotic device and the electrical stimulation of the spinal cord.

“It will be difficult to get people with complete paralysis to walk completely independently, but even if they don’t accomplish that, the fact they can assist themselves in walking will greatly improve their overall health and quality of life,” says V. Reggie Edgerton, senior author of the research and a UCLA distinguished professor of integrative biology and physiology, neurobiology and neurosurgery, in the release.

The robotic device was manufactured by Richmond, California-based Ekso Bionics, which captures data that enables the research team to determine how much the subject is moving his own limbs, as opposed to being aided by the device, per the release.

“If the robot does all the work, the subject becomes passive and the nervous system shuts down,” Edgerton explains in the release.

The data showed that in Pollock’s case, it wasn’t just the robotic device doing all the work. Pollock was actively flexing his left knee and raising his left leg, and that during and after the electrical stimulation, he was able to voluntarily assist the robot during stepping.

“For people who are severely injured but not completely paralyzed, there’s every reason to believe that they will have the opportunity to use these types of interventions to further improve their level of function. They’re likely to improve even more,” Edgerton states in the release.

“We need to expand the clinical toolbox available for people with spinal cord injury and other diseases,” he continues.

The research will be published by the IEEE Engineering in Medicine and Biology Society, according to the release.

[Source(s): University of California – Los Angeles, Science Daily]