Last week, the US Food and Drug Administration granted clearance to a new device that could be of considerable aid to stroke victims or people with partial spinal cord injuries. Created by Dr. Paul Cordo of the Oregon Health & Science University (OHSU) in collaboration with OHSU spinoff company AMES, the "AMES device" reportedly helps the brain get paralyzed muscles moving again.
Dr. Cordo had previously conducted research that involved manually moving the paralyzed limbs of test subjects, while simultaneously vibrating receptors in the associated muscle tendons – this served as an amplified simulation of the sensation that would ordinarily accompany such a movement. The subjects’ central nervous system detected the resulting sensory output from the buzzed muscles, essentially alerting the brain that movement was taking place. The brain responded by stepping in, and helping to guide that movement.
The AMES device is based on that same principle. It robotically moves a paralyzed or partially-paralyzed limb, while vibrating the muscle receptors that would be involved in that movement if it was initiated by the patient.
The device also measures how much of the patient’s own effort is going into the movement, and displays that data for them as real-time visual biofeedback. Additionally, it performs diagnostic tests on the patient during each session, to let clinicians track their progress over time.
Clinical trials of the device have been conducted at various sites in the US, using stroke victims and patients with chronic spinal cord injuries, most of whom were considered “very disabled.” The results indicated that the therapy did indeed improve the patients’ movement and strength, to the extent that some of them were subsequently able to carry out activities of which they were previously incapable.
The device is not intended for use in cases where the spinal cord has been completely severed, however.
With FDA approval now achieved, AMES plans on marketing the device, with delivery to hospitals and clinics anticipated for early next year.