Robotic knee can reprogram brain

December 14, 2008 12:00:00 AM PST
For patients with MS or Parkinson's, and anyone undergoing knee or brain surgery, it is a struggle just to walk.

Now, a laboratory in Mountain View is about to release a robotic knee that can reprogram the brain while providing physical therapy.

After a stroke, Vikki Harrigan's walk was so bad it destroyed her knees and hip. Now, she wears a device that enables her to walk without a cane for the first time in years.

Harrigan's therapist is Professor Nancy Byl, Chair of the Physical Therapy Department at UCSF. "Notice she makes a very stable turn, which she did not use to do before," said Byl describing Harrigan's new walk to ABC7.

Harrigan explained, "What it's doing is giving me the correct feedback that I need to make the correct step." "Because the device actually helps her get her knee fully straight," added Professor Byl. "And, encourages her with that feedback that she needs to get her weight fully over her leg."

The device called "PowerKnee," is a new technology from a Mountain View company called Tibion. It is designed for patients dealing with a stroke, MS or neurosurgery.

The Tibion device is not designed to walk for its users. It provides resistance so they do not plop or fall. That resistance is also good for therapy and provides assistance in ambulation so people can relearn how to walk. Co-founder and CEO of Tibion Kern Bhugra says, "I think you can see this device and other devices like it certainly being part of everyone's daily lives. I think the things that will get enhanced as we go forward is how the user interacts with the device. Is it through myoelectric signals? Is it through brain waves? Is it through biomechanics, as it is in our case?"

The PowerKnee packs a lot of force in a lightweight package. Sensors in the shoe send instant feedback to a computer in the smart knee. But, it is simple enough for anyone to use at home.

Tracy Halmos is one certified trainer and MPT using the Tibion device with patients at her clinic Individualized Physical Therapy in Morgan Hill. One patient had lost proprioception, the sensation telling her the position of her knees.

"It was so exciting to watch her develop through using it," says Helmos. "We put it on her and she learned. She got that proprioception back and she kept it. She kept it. It was huge. As far as rehab goes, that's what you're looking for."

For more information:

Tibion
Tibion PowerKnee
Mt. View, CA
www.tibion.com/

UCSF
Department of Physical Therapy and Rehabilitation Science
http://ptrehab.medschool.ucsf.edu/

Individualized Physical Therapy
18525 Sutter Blvd Ste 170
Morgan Hill, CA 95037
(408) 778-6800


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