MIT-Manus robot aids physical therapy of stroke victims

An MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) robot has been highly productive in effecting the physical therapy of stroke victims, despite lacking a warm and approachable bedside manner.

The MIT robot focuses on problems with language, memory or movement. Currently it conducts therapy of the arm, but the researchers are creating additional robots for therapy of the legs and wrist/hand. They are also running two additional clinical trials and hope to begin a third later this year. Dubbed MIT-Manus for the link between its general therapeutic focus and MIT’s motto, ‘mens et manus’ (mind and hand), the robot has been in development for about 11 years.

In the robot-aided therapy, a person sitting at a table puts the lower arm and wrist into a brace attached to the arm of the robot. A video screen prompts the person to perform an arm exercise such as connecting the dots. If movement does not occur, MIT-Manus moves the person’s arm. If the person starts to move on his own, the robot provides adjustable levels of guidance and assistance to facilitate the person’s arm movement.

The researchers envision several additional applications for the robot, many of which have promise to impact health-care costs. For example, the device could help doctors prescribe the optimum therapy for a new patient. By comparing data from the new patient with the records of previous patients, ‘they can get a better sense of where the new patient stands,’ Professor Hogan (leader of the MIT research team) said.

MIT-Manus could also become an important teaching tool. ‘You could record how a skilled neurologist performs a given procedure on a mannequin, then replay it for trainees,’ he said. The machine could repeat the exercise, for example, while a trainee physically follows the movements with his hands over the mannequin’s wrist and hand.

Further, if two machines were linked, the expert could put an arm into one while the trainee works on a mannequin at the other. The data recorded by the student’s machine would be communicated to the expert’s hand, so the expert could ‘feel and observe what the trainee is doing,’ Professor Hogan said.

The data recorded by the robot could also be sent over the Internet, linking a therapist in a small town with a specialist in Boston, for example. With robots in both offices, the two people could work together to solve a particularly perplexing problem by transmitting the actual ‘touch and feel’ of the patient. In addition, the researchers are working on home-based robot therapy supervised by a clinician via the Internet.

The Neurology study was sponsored by the Burke Medical Research Institute, the National Parkinson’s Disease Foundation, the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health. Drs. Hogan and Krebs hold a patent on the robot.