February 21, 2009
Picrow-ers went to New York and Boston this week to visit some rehab facilities that are using robotics therapy to help children with Cerebral Palsy. The first stop on the trip was the Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital in Boston. Here we met the two doctors involved with Lokomat trails, Dr. Paulo Bonato and Dr. Ben Patritti. The Lokomat, as they explained it, is used to help perform therapy on the lower extremities. It is robot-assisted walking therapy. The children that we met seemed to greatly benefit from using the Lokomat—one girl, Allie, went from using a walker to being able to use crutches, and another boy, Evan, learned to walk without the use of his crutches. We also spoke with Dr. Donna Nimec, a specialist in this field, who told us that she was initially skeptical about the usefulness of the machine, but after using the Lokomat herself and seeing the results with the patients, she became a convert. The parents that we spoke with were all very pleased with the increased mobility of their children thanks to the Lokomat, and they expressed and desire for more of them in more locations. But before our departure, the Spaulding Rehabilitation folks showed us another therapy machine, the Armeo, which is currently being used only on adults. The Armeo is an task-oriented therapy robot to help gain control of the upper extremities. It is currently mostly used in stroke patients, but with more research they are hopeful that the Armeo can be used to help kids with Cerebral Palsy as well.
The next stop on our trip was the Burke Rehabilitation Center in White Plains, NY. Burke had a large array of therapy robots, the histories of which we had the privilege of learning about from Dr. Bruce Volpe. From Burke we went to the Blythedale Children’s Hospital in Westchester, NY. Here we met with Dr. Hermano Igo Krebs, winner of the 2009 Isabelle and Leonard H. Goldenson Technology and Rehabilitation Award, who was involved in some of the early studies of robotics therapy. Krebs collaborated with Dr. Fletcher McDowell and Dr. Mindy Aisen in robotics therapy’s early days to stuff rehabilitation in stroke patients. Based on the success of their initial work, they moved on to try robotics therapy for people with similar impairments, such as children with cerebral palsy.
At Blythedale we also met with Dr. Joelle Mast who filled us in on some current studies that were being conducted with the MIT Manus, which focuses on therapy for the arm. Finally, we caught-up with Dr. McDowell to learn a little more about how robotics came into use. McDowell got his inspiration from an article he had read about a doctor who had suffered a stoke and felt that when his arm was moved repetitively for a long period of time, he would start to feel like he could move it himself. After hearing about the robotics being developed to do just these sorts of movement repetitions, McDowell got involved in studies on stroke patients at Burke Rehabilitation Center.
Last but not least we met with Paul Volcker, the CPIRF Chairman of the Board and former chairman of the Federal Reserve, to talk about his personal relationship to Cerebral Palsy. Volcker’s son has cerebral palsy as well as four of his grandchildren, and because of this he remains deeply committed to robotics research.