“We are looking at the future of medicine,” said Dr. Fogarty after seeing a presentation and demonstration of the world’s first cyborg-type robot, HAL (Hybrid Assistive Limb) at a recent meeting organized by Mitsubishi Corporation.
Driven by neural connections and moved by command signals sent from the wearer’s brain, the medical application HAL (the “Medical HAL”) improves and regenerates the brain-nerve-physical functions of individuals with mobility challenges, such as stroke victims, the disabled and the elderly, so that they can walk and participate in day-to-day activities.
HAL is the brainchild of Yoshiyuki Sankai, a professor at the University of Tsukuba, who founded CYBERDYNE in 2004 to further develop his initial concept of a robot suit.
HAL works by facilitating the connection between the nerves and sensory system to help the brain send bioelectrical signals to move specific muscles. The suit senses the neural command signals and immediately provides the patient’s intended movement, such as raising an arm, extending a leg or walking.
By using the Medical HAL, patients have the potential to promote functional improvement and regeneration, strengthening the neural pathways and essentially allowing the brain to move the body smoothly. Many of the patients who use the Medical HAL for several hours or on a regular basis, depending on their physical need, have been able to actually reconstruct the connections to/of the brain, allowing them to eventually successfully walk on their own, without the assistance of the robot suit.
The CYBERDYNE and Mitsubishi Corporation teams at a recent meeting at the Fogarty Institute. From left to right: Hideaki Miyata, manager at Mitsubishi Corporation (Americas); Yoshihiro Yasunaga, business planning director of CYBERDYNE; Yoshiyuki Sankai, founder, president and CEO of CYBERDYNE; Dr. Fogarty; Andrew Cleeland; Noboru Ohrui, team leader of Mitsubishi Corporation’s healthcare business; and Shin Kosuga, director of Healthcare Business for Mitsubishi Corporation (Americas).
CYBERDYNE is also combining robotics with regenerative medicine to help patients with severe or complete spinal cord injuries regain mobility. In one of their studies, with HAL treatment after cell transplantation, a patient was able to walk 200 meters unaided after using HAL for eight months.
Since its inception, CYBERDYNE has gone public and refined its technology to serve a broader market. While the Medical HAL has been recognized as a medical device in both Japan and Europe, different types of HAL were developed for other fields, such as living support – devices that support the independent movement of elderly people and those with disabilities – and labor.
For example, HAL for Labor Support (Lumbar Type), provides lumbar support to workers in factories, airports and construction sites to help mitigate the risk of back injuries when they lift heavy objects. HAL for Care Support (Lumbar Type) reduces the load on caregivers’ lumbar during assistance activities, such as transferring the elderly or disabled.
This will be particularly impactful in Japan, as approximately 80 percent of the caregivers suffer from lower back pain, according to studies.
The company is now eager to apply its technology to the U.S. market where it could make a tremendous impact on stroke victims, veterans and others who wear prosthetics, the elderly, and those who are paralyzed or have suffered spinal injuries. They have communicated with the FDA and are interested in exploring ways to work with the Fogarty Institute to further leverage their technology to benefit patients.
“Our focus is always on patients first,” said Dr. Sankai, underscoring just one of the many areas that CYBERDYNE and the Fogarty Institute have in common.
“This technology is truly ground-breaking,” said Andrew Cleeland. “We are looking forward to continuing to explore ways that we can leverage our ecosystem to mutually work together and learn from one another.”