World’s First Child-Sized Exoskeleton Aims To Improve Quality Of Life Of Kids With Spinal Muscular Atrophy

A research team in Spain has developed the world’s first exoskeleton prototype to help disabled children learn how to walk and sustain mobility. The exoskeleton comes with long support rods that adjust to the legs and torso of a child with spinal muscular atrophy, or SMA.

The prototype, which weighs 26 pounds and cost $56,000 to make, was developed by the Superior Council for Scientific Research at the Polytechnic University of Madrid, teleSUR reported. The exoskeleton will be used as a mobility therapy in health centers all over the world for children with ages between three and 14.

Improved Quality Of Life

Elena Garcia, lead researcher at the Center for Automation and Robotics CSIC, said children with spinal muscular atrophy are diagnosed around seven to 18 months of age. Kids who have the condition are unable to walk on their own because their nerve cells located in the spinal cord don’t transmit signals to their muscles, resulting to inactivity. Inactive muscles are smaller in size, a medical condition called atrophy, according to the Muscular Dystrophy Association USA.

Spinal muscular atrophy is a genetic disease. It affects muscles located close to the center of the body like the shoulders, thighs, hips and upper back. Weak back muscles can lead to spinal curvatures (scoliosis and osteoporosis).

The condition is the number one genetic cause of death for infants, Cure SMA wrote. Garcia noted that people with spinal muscular atrophy have higher risks of respiratory failure especially if the muscles that control breathing and swallowing are affected by the disease.

Hopes Placed On Exoskeleton Device

Garcia said a patient’s quality of life can be improved by the exoskeleton because it can prevent or lower the risks of developing other health issues associated with spinal muscular atrophy, teleSUR further reported. The exoskeleton, which is made with aluminum and titanium and has a 5-hour battery, is equipped with a clever modifying system that adapts to each child’s symptoms, according to KSLA-TV.

Researchers hope that the exoskeleton could be purchased by families as early as next year depending on the funding. The exoskeleton is currently in the pre-clinical stage, but researchers aim to move it outside of hospital settings and make it available for patients so they can use it at home.

Just recently, researchers from the University of Missouri developed a gene replacement therapy for spinal muscular atrophy patients with respiratory distress type 1 or SMARD1. The therapy targets motor neurons affected by the disease and improves its protein expression. SMARD1 also enhances a patient’s muscle strength, SMA News Today reported.

By Samantha Finch, Parent Herald

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