Wearable robot brace is approved for adolescents

Healthcare robots have been on the cusp of mainstream reality for a few years, but most applications target adults. One company is trying a different demo.

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Medical robotics company Myomo has begun fitting adolescents with a robotic arm brace called MyoPro. The brace is designed to help users suffering from diseases or injuries that result in weakened or paralyzed arms.

The first user, Zeke Dees, suffered an ATV accident when he was just 8. The accident caused brain and spinal cord injuries, as well as brachial plexus injury (BPI) to his shoulder, leaving his arm completely paralyzed.

"The brachial plexus is the network of nerves that sends signals from your spinal cord to your shoulder, arm, and hand. There aren't a lot of non-invasive, clinical interventions for BPI that produce the same results as the MyoPro," said Liz May, pediatric occupational therapist at Shriners Hospital for Children in Chicago. "With the help of the MyoPro, we are seeing patients drastically improve their range of motion, spontaneous use, and function of their involved upper extremity, despite paralysis. This device has allowed my patients to find a new state of independence, which has completely transformed their outlook on life."

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To date, companies in the wearable healthcare robotics space have primarily targeted adults. In part that's due to the strict regulatory environment, and in part it's a market consideration. Wearable robots are expensive, and parents are loath to spend tens of thousands of dollars on equipment their children will likely outgrow.

As a result, most companies have opted for products that cover as wide a spectrum of adult users as possible. Robotic exoskeletons from Ekso Bionics, for instance, can be adjusted to fit users ranging from 5'2" to 6'2".

MyoPro is a powered upper limb orthosis that senses patients' EMG signals through non-invasive sensors on the arm. The powered brace supports the arm and restores movement in patients suffering from spinal cord injury or ailments like ALS or stroke, among others.

Patients like Dees commonly relearn to perform everyday tasks with one arm. Robotic devices like MyoPro can help bring some of that functionality back.

"My MyoPro device has changed my life dramatically," says Dees. "Not only has it allowed me to gain my independence back, but it's brought strength back to my left arm. I got my brace when I was 17 and I can't imagine life without it. It's already helped me with the activities of daily living that I couldn't do before."

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Myomo has delivered MyoPros to rehabilitation centers like Easterseals, Shriner's Hospitals, and children's hospitals in cities like Boston and Cincinnati.

Myomo was founded in 2004 is headquartered in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

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