A new, soft robotic glove that can open and close a patient’s hand might bring some relief for stroke victims, according to a news release. The lightweight device, which is being developed through the Texas Medical Research Collaborative at University of Texas Arlington’s Research Institute in Fort Worth, is less expensive and more pliant than existing exoskeleton technology.
Often, initial rehabilitation therapy for many stroke victims focuses on regaining the ability to walk. But when hands also are affected, therapy focused only on the legs can leave hand muscles contracted, a condition that can be difficult to overcome, according to the release.
A team led by Muthu Wijesundara, PhD, UTARI principal research scientist, and University of North Texas Health Science Center researchers Rita Patterson, PhD; Nicoleta Bugnariu, PhD, PT; and Timothy Niacaris, MD, PhD, won a $99,000 grant to move their prototype into a clinical setting, according to the release. Development of this device will be conducted at UTARI, and the UNTHSC collaborators will evaluate the system’s safety and usability. “Part of the focus in this development is to create a portable and independent system, capable of applying therapy without the constant supervision of a therapist,” Wijesundara said in the release.
More than 795,000 people in the U.S. have a stroke each year, according to the CDC. As many as two-thirds of patients who have suffered a stroke will experience impaired hand function, the team wrote in its proposal.
Neurological impairment or severe injury can cause dysfunction in hand motion. Current commercial rehabilitation and assistive devices are based on conventional, rigid robotics, which often incorporate exoskeleton structures. Such devices, however, can be mechanically complex, costly, large and heavy. By comparison, the soft robotic approach typically uses inflatable structures that are less complex, relatively inexpensive and considered a safer option. Yet there are no existing commercial options for soft robotics on the rehabilitation market, researchers said.
“If continuous passive motion devices can be used to apply hand opening and closing motions starting early in the rehabilitation process, it would immensely benefit the standard care of stroke patients and improve their long-term functional abilities and quality of life,” Bugnariu, an associate professor of physical therapy at UNTHSC, said in the release.
UTARI’s soft robotic glove incorporates a hybrid soft-and-rigid pneumatic actuator, a design that offers a low operating pressure, easy fabrication, a lightweight structure and individual control of joints. The flexible nature of this glove allows it to be adapted to various medical conditions and anatomical features, according to the release.
The system’s technology is based on another UT Arlington invention, the Bubble Actuator, an adaptive interface that fits between a prosthetic device and a patient’s limb to improve fit and comfort. Mickey McCabe, PhD, UTARI executive director, said the project is an example of UTARI’s goal to develop technologies that can be commercialized to improve quality of life.
“In this case, we’re helping patients regain use of their hands and fingers,” McCabe said in the release. “This grant from TxMRC brings us one step closer to developing a device that will ultimately improve health and the human condition for the benefit of society.”
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