‘Robo-arm’ could help millions regain arm strength, researchers say

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Researchers say a wearable robot they’ve created, which acts like an external muscle layer, could potentially help millions of patients with muscular dystrophy, multiple sclerosis and stroke regain lost movement.

Many of these patients often have difficulty lifting or carrying objects due to chronic weakness in their arm muscles.

In lab tests, Myoshirt increased the endurance of a patient with muscular dystrophy and a patient with spinal cord injury by up to 600 percent.

The makers of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich (ETH Zurich) believe the prototype device could be ready for market within two years.

The Myoshirt is worn like a corset and can increase arm strength by up to 600 percent. /Florian Haufe

The Myoshirt is worn like a corset and can increase arm strength by up to 600 percent. /Florian Haufe

The Myoshirt is a soft, wearable exo-muscular that is worn like a corset, with cuffs for the upper arms. Sensors embedded in the fabric attached to a control box use an algorithm to detect the intentional movements of the wearer and the amount of force required to make them.

Lead researcher Michele Xiloyannis told CGTN Europe: “This corset is attached to the torso (torso) of the person. Two anchor points, on the upper and lower arm, are connected by artificial tendons that behave exactly like biological tendons, but instead are attached powered by electric motors. of our muscles.”

Xiloyannis wore the device and demonstrated how it works. “Myoshirt has the intelligence to understand and follow the movements I make. I don’t feel limited by the robot, which is synchronized with my movements. Patients can move freely and naturally as they would without the robot, but receive extra help, because their biological muscles have to do a lot less work.”

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Xiloyannis said the Myoshirt and control box are always in sync with the user’s movements and can be adjusted to their individual preferences, with the wearer being able to ignore the device.

The first tests took place with 12 participants – ten people without physical disabilities, one person with muscular dystrophy and one person with a spinal cord injury.

“In the pilot tests with patients, it was really surprising that the device was able to increase their endurance by up to 600 percent,” said Xiloyannis.

“Also, the tests with the healthy participants showed that the device worked in parallel with the human muscles and that it reduced the effort of biological muscles to perform a movement. We specifically showed that we can reduce gravity, because it device can make your arm feel almost weightless.”

A larger study is now planned.

Myoshirt’s artificial tendons behave exactly like biological tendons, but are powered by electric motors instead of our muscles. /Florian Haufe

Myoshirt’s artificial tendons behave exactly like biological tendons, but are powered by electric motors instead of our muscles. /Florian Haufe

Carefully welcome

Xiloyannis said current therapy devices are full-body exoskeletons, which are expensive, heavy and impractical.

According to his colleague Marie Georgarakis, “there are few technical tools that patients can use directly in their daily lives and use to help them perform exercises at home. We want to close this gap.”

Xiloyannis says the Myoshirt will be “lightweight, portable and easy to use, so people can use it in their daily lives.”

The British Stroke Association cautiously welcomed the development of Myoshirt.

Richard Francis, Stroke Association Head of Research, said: “While this research is interesting, we need more research to see if it is useful in a rehabilitation context for stroke patients – for example, whether it improves the recovery of arm muscles during physical therapy.

“With more research, this approach may be a promising rehabilitation tool to help people affected by stroke maintain strength, reduce fatigue, and therefore allow them to shift their focus to dealing with these other problems,” he added.

Once the size of the control box and motor is reduced, researchers say the weight of the device will be halved to less than two kilograms and could potentially be available for around $5,000.

The team works closely with ETH spin-off MyoSwiss AG, which produces and markets soft exoskeletons.

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