FDA approves robot built to help stroke victims

Stroke victims may soon be getting a helping hand -- or arm -- from a new robot developed by startup Myomo Inc.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) this month approved the Boston-based company's request to start selling and marketing the neuro-robotic device.

The brace-shaped robot, called the Myomo e100, slips over the arm of a stroke victim and detects electrical impulses on the skin that originate from the victim's brain. The robot is built to overcome the stroke's disabling of the patient's nervous system, the company said.

Myomo can interpret the electrical activity in the nerves and decipher what the patient intended the limb to do, and then cause the arm to move accordingly, said Kailas Narendran, a co-inventor Myomo and co-founder of the company. "This is the first wearable, portable, computerized robotic device in health care.

"There is a small amount of muscle control with stroke victims," he said. "There used to be a clear channel between the patient's thoughts and the muscles, but now the signals are garbled." The Myomo bridges that gap by unscrambling the brain's messages and assisting the arm to execute tasks such as picking up a glass or turn on a light, Narendran said.

He added that tests have found that use of the robot for an extended period of time can assist with long-term recovery and improve control of the limb -- even after Myomo is slipped off. It also helps relieve muscular tightness-another common side affect from a stroke. In the long run, Narendran said, victims can use the robot as a "platform to use improve their motor functions."

The project, based on research and development projects at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, began some six years ago, Narendran said. With FDA approval granted, the company plans to deploy Myomo in selected clinics.

The robot uses a proprietary 16-bit microcontroller and operating system software built by Myomo, the company said.

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