March 23, 2007

A robotic therapy device that can help stroke patients exploit their own neural plasticity to regain function showed a 23-percent improvement on average among stroke patients on whom the device was tested at MIT’s Clinical Research Center and at Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital in Boston.

The device, now awaiting  FDA approval, senses electrical muscle activity and provides power assistance to facilitate movement. According to researchers, the results show the device may help close the feedback loop of brain intention and actual limb movement that is believed to be a key component of cerebral plasticity in motor recovery.

Researchers at MIT who conducted a pilot study of the new device say it could even provide mobility gains among people who had suffered strokes several years before.

"This brace will allow people who have suffered from neurological trauma to rebuild strength, rehabilitate and gain independence," said Woodie Flowers, Pappalardo Professor of Mechanical Engineering at MIT, who led the original research team that developed the device. "The joint brace is easily controlled by the user and appears to be cost-effective. It could afford self-driven therapy for a large patient population."

Used under the supervision of an occupational or physical therapist, the device can be used to help patients progress from basic motor training, such as lifting boxes or reaching for a light switch, to more complex tasks such as carrying a laundry basket or flipping a light on and off while holding an object with the unaffected limb.

Results of the study to appear in the April 2007 issue of the American Journal of Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation. For more information visit

—Frank Long