The racers, or pilots as they’re called, are vying for two spots to travel to the international Cybathlon, a version of the Olympics for technology-assisted competitors, in Zurich, Switzerland.
All of the pilots in the Cleveland trials employ neural stimulation systems to power themselves around a track.
Engineers, scientists and medical professionals from Case Western Reserve University, the Louis Stokes Cleveland VA Medical Center, University Hospitals Case Medical Center and MetroHealth Medical Center originally customized each system to help individual pilots do such tasks as stand, walk, maintain balance and posture and more.
“An implanted neural stimulator can activate up to 16 muscle groups,” explained Ronald Triolo, a professor of orthopaedics and biomedical engineering at Case Western Reserve and executive director of the Advanced Platform Technology Center at the Stokes Cleveland VA.
It was developed by the VA and Case Western Reserve and consists of a surgically implanted pulse generator and electrodes inserted into the muscles near the motor nerves, or wrapped around them,” Triolo said. “There’s an external controller that communicates with the implant by radio waves transmitted through the skin by an antenna taped to the skin. “
A simple encoder senses where the pedal crank is and turns the right muscle on at the right time to propel the bike forward, he said.
Triolo, who leads the team supporting the pilots, agreed to enter the competition “to encourage the development of all sorts of assistive technologies and educate the public about their potential to impact the lives of people with disabilities,” he said.
Plus, he thought it would be fun for the pilots and their support team, who have continued to conduct research sponsored by the VA, National Institutes of Health and Department of Defense while they’ve trained and prepared for the competition over the past year.
(CNN) In what’s being hailed as a breakthrough in spinal cord injury research, four men paralyzed from the chest down have risen from their wheelchairs on their own volition and effort.
“I can stand up for more than half an hour,” said Dustin Shillcox, who was paralyzed in a car accident five years ago. “It’s awesome. It’s amazing. It’s a hopeful feeling.”
Shillcox and the other three men had electrical stimulators surgically implanted in their spines, and are working toward walking again someday. Their standing achievements were published Friday in the online journal PLOS ONE by Dr. Susan Harkema and her colleagues at the Kentucky Spinal Cord Injury Research Center at the University of Louisville.
The Christopher and Dave Reeve Foundation, which helped fund the study, has named the Kentucky research as its “Big Idea” and is raising $15 million to do the procedure in dozens more patients.
This isn’t the first time people with paralysis have risen from their wheelchairs. Since the mid-’90s, Dr. Ronald Triolo’s team at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland has implanted stimulators in the legs and hips of more than 30 people, allowing them to stand up. Some have even taken steps.
But according to Triolo, there’s one major difference: The stimulators he uses “hijack” the muscles and tell them what to do. The Kentucky researchers put their stimulators right at the spine, so they affect the central nervous system. The patients themselves then have direct control over their muscles, and make them move on their own.
“The cachet, the unique thing Susie Harkema is doing, is she’s letting the muscles act naturally rather than forcing them to act,” said Triolo, a professor of orthopedics and biomedical engineering at Case Western. “It’s one step closer to more natural function.”