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Medicine Robotics Science

A Bionic Leg That Rewires Stroke Victims' Brains 36

waderoush writes "A startup called Tibion in Sunnyvale, CA, has begun selling battery-powered robotic exoskeletons that help stroke victims with one-sided weakness relearn how to stand, sit, walk, and negotiate stairs. The leg isn't a permanent attachment; the company says patients who use the device for 45 minutes a week for four weeks experience significant gains in walking speed that persist and even improve months after the treatment. They believe that the $40,000 device — which includes sensors that respond to subtle signs of user intentions, such a shift in weight — provides feedback that triggers neuroplasticity, the brain's ability to rewire itself to repair damage."
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A Bionic Leg That Rewires Stroke Victims' Brains

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  • Difference (Score:4, Insightful)

    by MyLongNickName ( 822545 ) on Monday December 13, 2010 @03:44PM (#34537594) Journal

    Here is the difference between a journalist writing something and what a scientist says.

    Journalist: "Bionic Leg That Rewires Stroke Victims' Brains"

    FTA: "And this movement provides proprioceptive feedback that, over time, helps patients’ brains rewire themselves, so that they are eventually able to carry out the motion on their own"

    Draw your own conclusions

    • To be fair, I should put the article's title here, not the summary's:

      "Can Tibion’s Bionic Leg Rewire Stroke Victims’ Brains?"

      • Is there really a significant difference between "bionic leg rewires brain" and "bionic leg provides feedback that allowes the brain to rewire itself"? Aside from brevity.
        • by tedgyz ( 515156 ) *

          I think we are arguing semantics. I easily interpreted "rewires brain" to mean what it says - "allows the brain to rewire itself". I did not picture some Brazil [] style surgery.

    • by Wansu ( 846 )

        FTA: "And this movement provides proprioceptive feedback that, over time, helps patients' brains rewire themselves, so that they are eventually able to carry out the motion on their own"

      proprioceptive, ain't that an erection that last more than 4 hours ... no wait, that's priapism ...

    • by Thing 1 ( 178996 )
      Currently reading "The Brain that Changes Itself", about neuroplasticity. It's really neat that they are able to provide new types of inputs, and our brains rewire themselves to obtain information about the world through those new inputs. There's a bracelet (or anklet) which vibrates the part pointing to magnetic north, and wearing this, people start to have a much larger sense of direction. Also, those psychology experiments that showed rewiring -- wearing glasses that shifted the view 30 degrees to the
    • My conclusion is that the journalist's shorter version conveys the same basic information as the scientist's, but is much more likely to make me read the article.

      It's not like the former is saying "immortality elixir invented" when in truth it's just a way of ameliorating cold symptoms.

  • Not to throw cold water on what sounds like a fascinating innovation, but are there any studies that show that it works?

    Or is it just a very expensive placebo that provides a magic-feather effect for the stroke patients, giving them enough support and confidence to put some more effort into their therapy?

    Though if it had a bit more oomph to it, I could see quite a lot of use for people with extensive lower-body damage...internalize the structure, and it sounds like it could be a pretty handy prosthetic, alb
    • FTA: "... At least, that’s the theory. “I can’t tell you for a fact, but the hypothesis is that we are amplifying residual intention,” says Remsberg. “This allows for an intensive level of training, which appears to capitalize on neuroplasticity, the ability of the brain to rewire around regions destroyed by stroke.” (Remsberg expands on this idea in the video on page 3.)

      If larger studies prove that the device is as effective as the early results seem to suggest, Tibion e

    • by trb ( 8509 ) on Monday December 13, 2010 @04:04PM (#34538006)
      I agree, show me the research. I work in the field of rehabilitation robotics for stroke, and I am not aware of science that says that simply assisting someone's movement will improve their neural/muscular function.

      I've been working on this problem for 10 years (as a software designer, not a neuroscience researcher) and researchers who use our robots have many studies that show patient improvement, but this comes from providing controlled rehabilitation exercises, not just by driving their limbs with an exoskeleton. I think research indicates that the rehab benefit comes from having the patients work to control their own limbs (with assistance and guidance if necessary from a robot or therapist) rather than by just driving the limbs without the patient working the neural paths.

      N Engl J Med 2010; 362:1772-1783 May 13, 2010 [] []

      • by MozeeToby ( 1163751 ) on Monday December 13, 2010 @04:23PM (#34538364)

        The, at this point anecdotal, evidence is based on people who are beyond the generally accepted 12 month window of improvement. They showed an increase in walking speed of .2 m/s while using the device, and an additional .1-.2 m/s improvement in the months following the device's use.

        So, if their results hold up in larger studies, I would say that this is either a new effect, or the conventional wisdom is dead wrong and we're giving up on rehabilitation too soon. Either way it's fantastic news for stroke victims. Some of the people they talked about were able to double their comfortable walking speed, that's a pretty big deal for a stroke victim who was told by their doctor "this is the best you will ever be able to walk".

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by spads ( 1095039 )
        What seems to be the contention here, is the possibly unique advantage of, specifically, proprioceptive feedback, as opposed to the more conventional theory of standard exercise, in re-wiring these atrophied areas of the brain. Proprioceptive feedback is specifically the feedback sent to the brain from a limb due to its re-positioning (in space). The atrophy of the brain area might obviate the possibility of normal exercise. Thus, the question comes, might any benefit be purely gained from an externally
        • by sjames ( 1099 )

          Your deficit was primarily muscular and/or skeletal though, wasn't it? This is for neurological deficits.

          It strikes me as being like a very precise version of the way sports are often taught where the student is taken through the needed motion by an instructor to help them learn it.

      • by Anonymous Coward
        Somebody is jealous that others thought of it before him.
    • by kanto ( 1851816 )

      It's kind of logical when you think about it, the best example I know of was in a documentary where a woman with her inner ear poisoned regained her sense of balance when she trained with a cap that showed her her stance and so enabled here to remain in balance; a bit like when in signal processing where you use the original signal as target when training a filtering system to remove noise etc. You just need to have some capability left and the brain will be able to correctly notice those parts.

      This is pro []

  • "Why does the man walk his leg?
          Because the man is smarter than the leg. If the leg were smarter
          than the man, the leg would walk the man."

  • It's good to see the advancements that they are making in this area. Along with the system developed in Israel recently for parapalegics, advancement in the mobility realm seems to be improving lately.

    Hopefully they will put together some decent studies so that it not only gets additional public attention, but health insurers might begin to pay for usage in treatment (if research is conclusive of course).

    Great stuff!

  • We've never had bionic limbs cause changes in people's minds before, right?

  • While the preliminary results are somewhat limited, what a facinating idea. It continues to astound me how versatile our brains really are. The original internet, capable of rerouting around problems.

    I want one that makes me run faster and jump higher. Like those suits in Avatar.

  • This prothesis is the functional equivalent of having Dan Dailey standing there, playing the ukulele and singing "I'm gonna move that toe" [] over and over?

  • Stroke has affected my immediately family so it is nice to see something that can help people to walk, and possibly enhance their brain function. But who could afford this ? The pool of people that have insurance, insurance that actually pays instead of fighting, is getting smaller all the time.
    • by trb ( 8509 ) on Monday December 13, 2010 @06:57PM (#34540500)
      Problems of an aging and stroke-prone population cross international boundaries. "Who can afford this?" and "Will insurance pay for this?" are good questions, and the answers are different from country to country, and from year to year. Note also that hospitals and insurance companies are slow-moving organizations. If robotic science was a clearly safe magic pill that cured strokes, I assume we would find someone to pay for that cure. But with cures that provide only some degree of improvement, the treatments go through the normal course of medical research, and if the treatments are found to have sufficient and lasting efficacy, the medical and insurance fields eventually adjust to incorporate the new treatments.

      As it is, I've seen research that shows repeatable quality-of-life improvements from our robotic therapy, and I've been at clinics and hospitals where patients and their families have given me heartfelt thanks for my work, which, while very gratifying, does not count as a controlled repeatable verifiable research result.

  • If I'm understanding how this works correctly, I think a more advanced version of this technology be able to, for example, train a person to pitch a perfect curve ball or do a martial arts move.

Competence, like truth, beauty, and contact lenses, is in the eye of the beholder. -- Dr. Laurence J. Peter