The amyotrophic lateral sclerosis or ALS is a disorder of the nervous system which is manifested by the loss of functional characteristics in the muscles. People with this disease often have difficulty lifting the arms due to damage to nerve cells and spinal cord.

And new portable system has been developed by a team of researchers from Harvard University and Massachusetts General Hospital to help people with ALS raise their arms. The device has a pair of balls placed under the arms and a battery-powered air pump.

Crédits Walsh Lab, Harvard SEAS

An article describing the study was recently published in the journal Science Translational Medicine.

Operation of the device

The system created by the team has a harness-like configuration. It has two Y-shaped flexible robotic actuators, connected to an air pump by several hoses. The user wears the battery-powered air pump on the back of their waist, and an actuator under each of their armpits.

Sensors are built into the system to detect the slight residual movements of the arm that the wearer makes. When upward movements are detected, the sensors trigger the pump which will inflate the corresponding actuator. The arm will then be gently lifted by the swelling of this one. Conversely, actuator deflation occurs when the person performs a downward muscle movement.

Trials on patients with ALS

According to information, the system has already been tested on 10 ALS patients. In the beginning, it first required a 30-second calibration operation to assess the distinct level of strength and mobility in patients’ arms and shoulders. These then have learned to use the device in less than 15 minutes and have successfully performing tasks such as grasping and holding objects.

As ALS progresses, at a certain point even slight muscle movement becomes impossible. The next step in the researchers’ work is to find methods to trigger the actuators with brain signals detected by a brain-computer interface.

The lead author of the study paper, Professor Conor Walsh, said the study gives hope that robotic wearable technology can aid in the creation of new devices that can restore functional abilities to limbs in people affected by ALS and other diseases that affect mobility.

SOURCE: New Atlas

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