Paraplegics closer to regaining mobility with ReWalk Robotics
ReWalk's innovative exoskeleton can return mobility to people suffering from spinal cord injuries.
Hundreds of thousands of paralyzed people may be closer to walking again thanks to ReWalk Robotics, which has developed an innovative exoskeleton technology that it is developing for sale in the U.S.
With some 273,000 Americans suffering from severe spinal injuries, and a further 12,000 being added each year, ReWalk believes that everyone from wounded soldiers to car accident victims and, eventually, even those with degenerative diseases like multiple sclerosis or Parkinson’s, could benefit from the machine. Researchers at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City are now helping the first Americans to regain their mobility through this ingenious machine.
ReWalk is a battery-powered system with motorized legs that power knee and hip motion. ReWalk controls movement using subtle changes in a person’s center of gravity – when the user tilts his or her upper body forward, the system triggers the first step, and so on. It was invented by Israeli entrepreneur Dr. Amit Goffer, who awoke from an accident as a quadriplegic, and then set out to invent an alternative to the wheelchair.
ReWalk has been approved for personal and clinical use in Europe, Canada, the U.S. and Israel. So far, more than 400 people have been trained to use the device, mostly in hospitals and clinics. The company is now marketing the personal system, which requires a trained companion at all times.
Last week, the company raised $50 million in its NASDAQ listing to help fund the final stages of its development. Investors were excited by the innovation, with the price of its shares doubling since their first day of trading on Friday.
“Additional financing will allow us to expand our research and development and distribution efforts more quickly and reach a broader audience worldwide,” ReWalk CEO Larry Jasinski told From the Grapevine. “The ReWalk is a platform device that can apply for many injury and disease states. Our R&D will focus on broadening the use of the ReWalk for many different uses and for continuing to advance and improve the technology.”
The base price for the personal system is $69,500. In the United States, getting the ReWalk to those who need it will depend largely on whether insurance companies agree to cover the cost.
That’s one reason that researchers at Mount Sinai Hospital are conducting studies on the ReWalk and a similar device, the Ekso. They began studying how the products helped people regain mobility, but soon discovered unexpected health benefits.
“Some participants experienced reductions in pain, reductions in muscle spasms, and improvements in sleep and bowel function,” Dr. Allan J. Kozlowski, assistant professor in the Department of Rehabilitation Medicine at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, told From The Grapevine. “We were pleasantly surprised, because any time you get a secondary health benefit, that increases the potential value of people using the device.”
Robert Woo is among those hopeful for a better future. An architect working on the Goldman Sachs headquarters in New York City, Woo was crushed by 7 tons of steel while standing in a construction-site trailer on Dec. 14, 2007. He lost all feeling and internal functions from the chest down. “I didn’t want to live,” recalled Woo, whose sons were 6 months and 18 months old at the time. “The first thing that went through my mind was, ‘How could I put my family through this?'”
After Internet research introduced him to the ReWalk, Woo was among the first patients to participate in eight months of training on the device at the James J. Peters VA Medical Center in the Bronx. “When I stood up for the first time, I was almost in tears,” he says. “Taking the first step blew my mind. I wanted to jump up and down with excitement. It’s something I’ll never forget.”
During his training, Woo regained some of his digestive, bladder and bowel functions; he also gained a pound and a half of muscle in each leg and cut back his medications by 50 percent. Since then, he’s used the ReWalk to walk a 5K for charity in New York City.
Today, Woo hopes for the day he’ll be able to use the ReWalk at home. “I dream about being able to stand up and cook instead of cooking from a chair … or walking to the bathroom in the morning and brushing my teeth,” he says. “Maybe as the bionic technology gets better, I can take my sons to the park and push them on the swing. These are all hopes and dreams I have.”
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