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Saturday, July 28, 2007

My left arm shot out to catch them: Clinical trial of robotic Myomo device

When she was a college sophomore 21 years ago, she fell off the back of a friend’s dirt bike and hit her head on concrete, suffering a stroke. She learned to speak and walk again, and went back to school, and then to work. But much of Mary O’Regan’s left side remained numb, and she could not use her left arm.

Last year she chose to participate in a clinical trial of a new robotic device called the Myomo e100, designed to help stroke patients regain motion in their arms. Worn as an arm brace, the device senses weak electrical activity in the wearer’s arm muscles and provides just enough assistance so they can complete simple exercises like lifting boxes or switching on lights. After practicing such tasks, patients may begin to relearn how to extend and flex the arm, rebuilding the brain’s neurological pathways in the process.

"At first it felt weird and foreign. You have all these little muscles that are suddenly awake for the first time in 20 years. But I went back and practiced [three times a week for six weeks]. It was extremely encouraging," Mary said.

One time, she was delivering mail at work and the envelopes started to slip. "And my left arm shot out to catch them. That hadn’t happened in years."

By enrolling in the clinical trial, Mary had acted to help herself and other stroke survivors.

Advice: Consider participating in a clinical trial of a new drug or therapy.

Read one of our hero stories, or read more from Amanda Schaffer’s source article In the Science [NY] Times on July 10.

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