Initial rehabilitation therapy for many stroke victims may focus on regaining the ability to walk. But when hands also are affected, therapy focused only on the legs can leave hand muscles contracted, a condition that can be difficult to overcome.
August 7, 2015 – A new, soft robotic glove that can open and close a patient’s hand may bring stroke victims relief in a lightweight device that is less expensive and more pliant than current exoskeleton technology. The glove is being developed through the Texas Medical Research Collaborative at the UT Arlington Research Institute in Fort Worth.
A team led by Muthu Wijesundara, UTARI principal research scientist, and University of North Texas Health Science Center researchers Drs. Rita Patterson, Nicoleta Bugnariu and Timothy Niacaris won a $99,000 grant to move their current prototype into a clinical setting. Development of this device will be conducted at UTARI, while UNTHSC collaborators will evaluate the system’s safety and usability.
“Part of the focus in this development is to create a portable and independent system, capable of applying therapy without the constant supervision of a therapist,” Wijesundara said.
About 800,000 people in the United States have a stroke each year, and up to two-thirds of patients experience impaired hand function, the team wrote in its proposal. Neurological impairment or severe injury can cause dysfunction in hand motion. Current commercial rehabilitation and assistive devices are based on conventional, rigid robotics, which often incorporate exoskeleton structures.
Such devices, however, can be mechanically complex, costly, large and heavy. By comparison, the soft robotic approach typically utilizes inflatable structures that are less complex, relatively inexpensive and considered a safer option. Yet there are currently no commercial options for soft robotics on the rehabilitation market, researchers said.
Soft Robotics Target Hand, Finger Rehab for Stroke Patients in Alliance of Advanced Biomedical Engineering, The American Society of Mechanical Engineers ASME