On Monday, Kessler Foundation became the second rehabilitation research center in the U.S. to implement Ekso, a wearable, robotic battery-powered exoskeleton that allows wheelchair users with lower-extremity weakness to stand and walk.
"Kessler Foundation makes strategic investments in innovative technology that have the potential to improve the quality of life of people with disabilities," said Rodger DeRose, president and chief executive officer of Kessler Foundation. "Our partnership with Ekso Bionics confirms our leadership in rehabilitation research."
Made by Ekso Bionics, the new commercial version of Ekso is being distributed to the company's ten charter partners-including Kessler Foundation, for further testing. In October 2011, Foundation researchers successfully tested a prototype of Ekso on six participants with spinal cord injuries; five had paraplegia and one had tetraplegia, a higher level of injury. Each took steps in Ekso that were documented on video.
Scientists at Kessler Foundation are looking beyond the gains in mobility to the potential impact of standing and walking on overall health and well being. According to lead investigator Gail Forrest, PhD, they will study the effects on circulation, bone density, muscle strength, cardiac and lung function, mood, and bowel and bladder function. The outlook is promising according to preliminary research data collected for two participants during the October testing week. Protocols will be developed for using the device and identifying who will benefit from its use. Establishing an evidence base for safety and efficacy may support Ekso's use as a therapeutic rehabilitation device for mobility impairments caused by spinal cord injury and other conditions.
Kessler Foundation will collaborate with Kessler Institute for Rehabilitation for the Ekso studies, which will enable researchers and physical therapists to work together to determine best practices. Ekso Bionics plans to market a unit for home use in latter 2013.