Stroke survivor Norris Turner regained use of his right arm with the Tailwind device enough to play catch with his grandchildren. (Photo credit: University of Maryland, Baltimore)
Through a licensing partnership with the University of Maryland, Baltimore (UMB), Encore Path Inc of Baltimore has refined a compact, retractable, and portable device called Tailwind for stroke survivors. The in-home device was invented at UMB to help stroke survivors recover the use of an arm.
In a small clinical study at the University of Maryland School of Medicine published in 2004, in 6 weeks stroke survivors improved their ability to use and control their arm muscles after using the device three times a week, and tests revealed new brain activity in response to the therapy.
The therapy and device were co-invented by the University of Maryland School of Medicine’s Jill Whitall, PhD, a professor in the Department of Physical Therapy and Rehabilitation Science (PTRS), and Sandra McCombe-Waller, PT, PhD, MED, an assistant professor in the same department.
“The emphasis is on using both sides of the brain when exercising the arm, with a potential of rewiring the brain’s motor control circuitry to assist the movement of the paretic arm,” Whitall says.
McCombe-Waller adds, “In addition to use at home, the Tailwind device can be used in many different ways under the direction of physical and occupational therapists to improve motor function and motor control.”
Kris Appel, founder and president of Encore Path, learned of the UMB technology in 2006 when she was a student in the ACTiVATE program at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, which trains women to become entrepreneurs and to create start-up companies with inventions from Maryland research institutions and federal agencies.
After licensing the device in 2007, Appel engaged Sagentia Inc, Fulton, Md, an international technology and product development company, to help redesign the invention into the current Tailwind model.
McCombe-Waller is testing a prototype of the Tailwind model with patients at the PTRS clinic at the University. Both researchers plan to use the Tailwind in upcoming studies.
When stroke survivor Norris Turner of Columbia, Md, began using the Tailwind several months ago, under McCombe-Waller’s care, he had limited functional use of his right arm. He can now straighten his paretic arm and use it to hold a golf club with two hands and drive about 100 yards. He can also now play catch with his grandchildren, and he uses his right arm in a stabilizing manner to cut his own fruit and meat. “I’m glad I can shake hands with my right hand again,” says Turner, who added that before the therapy he could not lift both arms above his head, and now he can fairly easily.
The device works by bilateral training, as the seated patient uses both arms to push and pull handles on separate, or unyoked, tracks with minimal resistance. The incline of the tracks can be adjusted. It also includes a stabilizing brace for the chest and a metronome for an audible metronome steady tempo to help the patient exercise rhythmically.
Whitall and McCombe-Waller came up with the idea for the arm therapy based on motor control and motor learning principles and McCombe-Waller’s clinical experience with patients. They had previously studied gait therapy but thought there was a greater need for a new kind of therapy of the affected arm, particularly for those who were more severely affected by the stroke. Their invention can mimic natural human physical functions of the upper extremities in a variety of positions, say the researchers.
“I’m really glad that individuals can now have a chance to use this at home” and that more such techniques are needed for home use," Whitall says. McCombe-Waller says the device is also ideal for physical therapy clinics, where it can augment motor control training in many ways.
Their invention was originally called Bilateral Arm Trainer with Rhythmic Auditory Cueing (BATRAC) device.
Whitall and McCombe-Waller will present new scientific papers at the APTA meeting in Las Vegas, and the company plans to launch sales at the event.