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MIT's Anklebot to help stroke patients

The Anklebot teaches stroke victims how to move their ankles again. A Shoulderbot may be next.

A robot from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology could help stroke victims recover some movement and independence.

The Anklebot, shown off late last week at the International Conference on Rehabilitation Robotics in Chicago, effectively coaches stroke victims on how to use their legs again. A user straps on the robot, which looks like an ornate brace, and tries to walk. The Anklebot helps stabilize the person and manipulates the leg. By moving the leg as it moved before the stroke, the control pathways are re-established.

Several years ago, MIT unveiled a similar device for recovering arm movement. In clinical trials on that device, researchers found that stroke patients who used the machine for four to five hours per week improved further and faster than a second group of patients who did not receive robot-assisted therapy.

The researchers believe that more devices will come out, just in time for a projected increase in strokes that will likely occur with the graying of the baby boomers.

To this end, the university and the Baltimore Veterans Administration Medical Center will establish a Center of Excellence on Task-Oriented Exercise and Robotics in Neurological Diseases to further study how robots can help in physical rehabilitation. Experiments are already under way to develop robots that help shoulder and elbow movement.

If the Internet was the big buzz term of the last decade, medicine is shaping up to be the one for the current decade. Several tech companies and research universities are dedicating an increasing amount of energy and money to health care. The projects range from systems that will make health care more efficient and affordable to others that are plumbing new ways to test for diseases and help patients.