The medical field has seen considerable changes in the last twenty years. But, with the numerous breakthrough in technology, healthcare has reached new heights. Last year, one way technology helped medicine is through the Augmented Reality which was used to create devices like Accuvein. Any medical practitioner can now see the veins of the patient they are treating, so there is no more guessing or feeling where the veins are before administrating an injection. This year it is the area of artificial limbs that gets a makeover.
A Japanese company created a robot that could help people who lost the use of their lower limbs, rediscover the joy of walking. The robotic suit will use the patient’s intention to move the legs. Cyberdyne’s HAL mounted on a model. (Images via Cyberdyne)
Created for patients with injury to the spinal cord, the Hybrid Assistive Limb (HAL) will allow patients to experience the joys of standing up or walking by supporting their entire lower skeleton. Since its release in Japan 7 years ago by Cyberdyne Inc., the artificial limb has been helping many disable patients recover from their injuries. So much so that the Brooks Cybernic Treatment Center in Jacksonville, Florida partnered up with Cyberdyne to make the limb available in United States.
As opposed to other devices in the same category, the HAL let the user control it with his mind. The artificial limb would use a setting similar to that of an electro-encephalogram to connect the message from the patient’s brain to the nerves under the skin and interprets those messages as its orders. This process, over time, revives the nerves responsible for voluntary gestures. Eventually, the nerves are strong enough for the patients to be able to walk again on their own.
HAL legs. (Image via WALK AGAIN CENTER)
However, there is a condition that needs to be fulfilled before a patient is dressed in the Hal. Since the Hal is just a conversion device, it needs the body of the patient to offer sufficient electrical signal. In other words, the nerves connecting the legs of the patient to the brain must still be somewhat “alive.” The artificial limb builds on the body’s natural ability to heal itself. The medical director of the Brooks Cybernic Treatment Center, Dr. Geneva Tonuzi explains further that the HAL only needs the patient to offer a percentile of the work, and from there the HAL can use the patient’s intentions to produce results.
If she is right about the intention part of the process, another screening criteria might be necessary to decide what patient is fit to use the HAL: a psychological evaluation. For people victim of life-changing injuries, the body is not the only part that is damaged. Evaluating the mental state of the patient will ensure that he will be effectively working with the HAL. In addition, it will prevent any melt down if the patient becomes impatient with the healing process.
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