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January 11, 2021

Helping Quadriplegics Walk Again: Clinatec's Exoskeleton

The Clinatec laboratory in Grenoble, France, has developed an exoskeleton that enables paralysed patients to move their limbs with their mind, the first time this has been achieved for all four limbs.

Such exoskeletons have long been in development, but Clinatec has created a brain implant, Wimagine, that records and transmits brain activity to a computer, which then moves the exoskeleton accordingly.

The raw data from the patient’s brain activity is not so simply translated into movement: it must first be decoded by a sophisticated algorithm that is constantly adapting and improving. This algorithm determines the kind of movement intended by the patient based on previous inputs, so it’s always learning how better to respond to the patient’s intentions. The decoded data is then used by newly designed software to move the exoskeleton in real time, forming an advanced reactive system. First tested on 30-year-old quadriplegic Thibault, the exoskeleton has enabled him to take steps for the first time in two years, move his arms, and rotate his wrists, touching specific targets with a 71% success rate.

It was like [being the] first man on the Moon. […] I forgot what it is to stand, I forgot I was taller than a lot of people in the room.
— THIBAULT, THE PARALYSED PATIENT TRIALLING THE CLINATEC EXOSKELETON

However, the exoskeleton is a long way from general and clinical use. The sixty-five-kilogram apparatus has been in development for years, and the main tester, Thibault, began by moving a virtual avatar, gradually gaining control over two years. He can only use the exoskeleton while attached to a ceiling harness so that he doesn’t fall over, as Professor Alim-Louis Benabid explains: ‘This is far from autonomous walking […] He does not have the quick and precise movements not to fall.’ But while the exoskeleton clearly needs to be developed and refined further, the concept and practical application is there, showing great potential for medical technology and care in the future.

Clinatec is working on amazing, cutting-edge technology, and their results thus far are incredibly exciting. To aid movement in patients who are paralysed is an inspiring goal, and one that the Casper & Casper team is keen to keep an eye on as they proceed through development. Medical technology is progressing beyond what we could have imagined – we can’t wait to see what’s next!

To read more about innovative health solutions, check out our feature on Hyper-Personalised Medicine.

Archive Feature, originally published 04/02/20

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