Future is now for robots in rehabilitation

DOWNEY - Julio was paralyzed from the chest down several years ago, but today he is walking again thanks to Rancho's ReWalk Exoskeleton Robot. David is working with a shoulder robot that is helping him regain function that was lost after a devastating stroke more than a decade ago. At the same time, Rancho researchers are planning a new brain/computer interface project with their colleagues at Caltech and USC that will assist individuals with significant brain impairment by transmitting signals directly to their brains so that they may manipulate computers or machinery with nothing more than a thought.

"These are just three of the many exciting advances that are putting Rancho at the forefront of rehabilitation robotics technology," said Rancho Los Amigos National Rehabilitation Center Chief Medical Officer Mindy Aisen, MD, chair of the conference. "That's why we are convening our Third Transformational Technology Summit, entitled "Robotics in Rehabilitation: The Future is Now!", which will bring together leaders in academia, medicine, industry and government from throughout the world to discuss how we can harness technology to best serve our patients."

Transformational Technology Summit 3 will be held February 22-23 on the Rancho campus. This groundbreaking conference will be presented by Rancho, the Los Amigos Rehabilitation and Education Institute and the Rancho Los Amigos Foundation. Attendance will be by invitation only.

"We are very excited to meet with leaders in the fields of spinal cord injury, rehabilitation, robotics, brain/computer interface and many other emerging technological frontiers at this event," Dr. Aisen said. "Our goal is to bring together many of the world's top people in this area to discuss the impact of current and emerging technologies in improving outcomes for rehabilitation patients."

The summit comes at an exciting time in the history of Rehabilitation Medicine. "We are at a critical moment in time where we are experiencing rapid technological change that is already helping patients replace function and provide task-specific improvement that could not be achieved with conventional therapy alone, Dr. Aisen added. The summit opens next Friday night with a presentation by USC's Ted Berger entitled "Restoring Neurologic Function: Frontiers in Neurosurgery and Technology."

Saturday's program begins with world-renowned researcher Carolee Winstein, PhD, PT, FAPTA from USC, who will discuss the role of robotics in task-specific practice.

Last year, Rancho became the first hospital in the Western U.S. to use ReWalk Exoskeleton robots to help paralyzed patients walk again. The inventor of the ReWalk, Amit Goffer, will travel to Downey from Israel to discuss how powered exoskeleton robots can help patients overcome vertical mobility impairments.

Then Dylan Edwards, PhD from the Cornell-Weill School of Medicine in New York will present on the potential use of exoskeleton robots for recovery from spinal injury. His colleague Stefan Bircher, PhD from Hocoma Inc. in Boston will address how lower extremity robots can aid recovery of function in spinal cord injury, stroke and cerebral palsy. Finally, Rodolfo Rohr from Interactive Motion Technologies in Massachusetts will discuss exoskeleton use for hand, wrist arm and ankle recovery.

"These sessions will provide a comprehensive look at where we are and where we are going with exoskeleton robots, which is an area where Rancho is continuing to advance the state of the art," Dr. Aisen said. "We are also thrilled that Maja Mataric, PhD from USC, a leading innovator in socially assistive robotics, will be sharing her latest work and her view of the present and future impact social robots will have on the lives of rehabilitation patients."

Attendees will also hear from several distinguished leaders in brain/computer robotics technology. Beata Jarosiewicz, PhD from Brown University will discuss the results of the Brain Gate brain/computer interface project, while Caltech's Richard Andersen, PhD will speak about Caltech's experience with brain/computer robotics interfaces.

"After these two distinguished scientists discuss their work, we are going to convene a panel to delve more deeply into this area," Dr. Aisen said. The panel will be moderated by the brilliant neurosurgeon Charles Liu, MD, PhD from Rancho and USC.

"We are going to wrap up the conference with these brain/computer sessions, because we believe this could be one of the most important technological breakthroughs in many years for individuals with severe disabilities," she added. "We look forward to discussing the key role robots are playing today, and the larger role they will almost certainly play in the future as the art and science of Rehabilitation Medicine evolves," Dr. Aisen said.

"We are very proud of our leadership in the implementation of robotic technologies for our patients," she said. "With the state-of-the-art robots we are already using and the research we are doing on emerging robotic technologies, the future of robotics in rehabilitation at Rancho is now."

********** Published: February 14, 2013 - Volume 11 - Issue 44