Alberta researcher gets $50,000 grant to help paralyzed patients walk

Published: April 2, 2008  |  Source: cbc.ca
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A University of Alberta researcher who developed a device to help patients with spinal cord injuries walk was awarded a $50,000 grant on Wednesday.

Dr. Dick Stein was awarded the grant, from a foundation created by Toronto journalist Barbara Turnbull, at a ceremony in Edmonton. Turnbull was left a quadriplegic at age 18 after she was shot during a convenience store robbery.

The ceremony recognized Stein’s WalkAide system, a small computer worn under clothing that delivers electrical impulses to trigger leg movements, helping patients walk.

“When the foot is behind the leg, it activates muscles to pick up the foot and bring the foot through. And then when the leg is in front of the body, then it turns the stimulator off so that the foot lands naturally on the floor,” he explained.

Edgar Jackson, who was left partially paralyzed and in a wheelchair after a motorcycle accident, said the device will allow him to walk his daughters down the aisle.

“My daughters are 21 and 24 … Lindsay and Jennifer. And thanks to Dr. Stein, when the day comes I’ll be able to walk them both down the aisle,” said Jackson, who is already using the device.

Stein said he will use the grant money to help create a device that will allow patients to walk seamlessly.

WalkAide has only one sensor to instruct the body on how to move, while the human body relies on more than 10,000, he said. As well, the current device lacks the multiple sensory perceptions used by the body — such as feedback from muscle and skin — that helps walkers adapt to the terrain.

To improve the system, he said, “We’re looking at ways in which the rays of electrodes could be implanted in the spinal cord itself to access that circuitry that’s still present after a spinal cord injury.”