MADRID (WVUE) - Children with a rare genetic disorder could gain the ability to walk for the first time thanks to a new exoskeleton built for infants.
The new brace, developed by the Spanish National Research Council (CSIC), will help children with spinal muscular atrophy.
Spinal muscular atrophy, or SMA, is a disease that robs people of physical strength by affecting the motor nerve cells in the spinal cord, taking away the ability to walk, eat or even breathe on their own. According to CURE SMA, it is the number one genetic cause of death for infants.
The device itself consists of long support rods that adjust to fit around a child's legs and torso. A series of motors can then act as human muscles in the patient's joints and give them the strength to stand upright and walk.
The aluminum and titanium exoskeleton can also be expanded and modified to accommodate children between the age of 3 and 14 as they grow.
"The number one drawback in developing this type of pediatric exoskeleton is that the symptoms of neuromuscular illnesses- such as spinal muscular atrophy- change over time, as much in the articulations as in the body," explains Elena Garcia, from the Automatics and Robotics Centre, a CSIC/Politechnic University of Madrid. "That's why it's fundamental to have an exoskeleton capable of independently adapting to these changes. Our model includes intelligent joints which alter the brace's rigidity automatically and adapt to the symptoms of each individual child at whenever required."
The device does more than just help children walk according to the CSIC. By helping them move, the exoskeleton helps prevent the onset of scoliosis and other problems associated with the loss of mobility.
The technology is currently in the pre-clinical phase. Researchers hope that the exoskeleton will eventually move out of the hospital and into patients' homes.