Real robots for diseases that have no cure

Blindness, cerebral palsy, motor paralysis … Today incurable injuries begin to see a flash of light thanks to robotics

Today, a child who could never walk can stand up thanks to an exoskeleton and a woman can see a flash of light after years of blindness. They are just two examples. They are the patients 0 of a promising technological development for diseases that have no cure.

In this edition of Ros Film Festival there is a section dedicated to real robots, among them, those destined to improve the lives of people with health problems that are unapproachable from medicine. They are robots at the service of human health.

Recovering a flash of light after 16 years of blindness

A few days ago, Bernadeta Gómez, 56, appeared in the media with glasses connected to an implant in her brain. That implant stimulated the area of ​​the brain that deals with vision. With training, the neurostimulation allowed her to see lights, colors, even some letters after 16 years of blindness, plunged in absolute darkness.

To see again, even if it is only a flash, when the world is a succession of darkness, it is something enormously valuable. Bernardeta was the only volunteer in the first experiment of a chip to recover vision based on neurostimulation. The implant was developed by the Biomedical Neuroengineering Group of the Institute of Bioengineering of the Miguel Hernández University.

Bernardeta Gómez was a professor of Biology at a high school in Valencia when, 16 years ago, septicemia left her blind. Now 57, an implant inside the brain has allowed him to perceive patterns and recognize some letters of the alphabet. He has even been able to play a simple version of Pacman. Photography: UMH

The glasses connected to the brain implant could measure up to what humanity thought was going to be the future of robotics and cyborg a century ago, however, in the photograph, Bernardeta appears wearing a typical hospital gown. life. The future, in this, does not look future.

José María Sabater, researcher at the Biomedical Neuroengineering Group of the Bioengineering Institute of the UMH, the group that developed the Berardeta implant, participates in one of the conference Ros Film Festival, on November 18 at Las Cigarreras, Alicante.

The group to which it belongs is led by researcher Eduardo Fernández, who is a doctor, and two engineers participate, Nicolás López García and José María Sabater. “We are dedicated to providing technology to problems that come to us from the health area (browsers that assist surgeons during interventions, apps that can predict crises in people with autism, etc.) We have developed technology for different pathologies,” explains Sabater . For instance?

“For example end-effect robots that are used for the rehabilitation of people who have suffered a stroke”

The “alien hand of a female pianist”

“We have worked with robots that can be used in the first moment after suffering the stroke. What has been seen in clinical studies is that the earlier rehab begins, the better. It is a very difficult time, the person is still very spastic (uncontrollable “jerky” movements). The involvement of the patient in this is super important. To this day we have no clinical evidence that rehabilitation with the robot is better than a physical therapist moving your arm. But what there is evidence for is that the dropout rate with manual therapy is much higher than with the robot.

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Rehabilitation robots are custom designed for patients. “We adapt the robot to the patient’s tastes. We had a case of a lady who had on hand alien, that he did not control, he even injured himself. She had been a music teacher. So we designed a rehabilitation robot that allowed him to stand in front of some piano keys on the computer and play them. His motivation and concentration at that moment was maximum, he regained control of his arm ”.

These developments arrive at the hospital, they do not remain only in the laboratory (although today the transfer process in Spain is still an exhausting marathon).

“We currently have many of these robots in hospitals and they can be used under the responsibility of the hospital’s clinical team. The developments go through the Ethics Committee, but they can only be used as experimental evidence during the years that we set, but it is still an experimental and test use. In other words, when those years of testing are over, the robot will have to stop being used, ”explains Sabater.

“That all the boys and girls of the world can walk”

The previous sentence, “that all the children in the world can walk”, is by Elena García Armada, the engineer who has managed to develop a pediatric exoskeleton. The pediatric exoskeleton of Marsi bionic it is the best example of a research center’s struggle to commercialize its development.

ATLAS is an exoskeleton for children who cannot walk, and it can be useful for the rehabilitation of 120,000 children in our country, 17 million in the world, affected by different disorders that impede their mobility.

Cerebral palsy, muscular atrophy, chronic neurological damage that makes it impossible to stand up, take a single step … ATLAS is used for the rehabilitation of 90% of neurological diseases in childhood that affect mobility.

“The exoskeleton goes beyond a wheelchair, it is a vital issue for them, of public health. And it has been proven that it works ”, explains its developer, Elena García Armada.

At Ros Film Festival, the short film about Atlas, the pediatric exoskeleton, will be screened in the Real Robots category. It is worth knowing.

“The Exo is a window to the future,” says Álvaro’s mother in the video. For many girls and boys, it is.

And what has become of Bernardeta, the woman who has been able to see flashes of light after 16 years of blindness? “Well, we had to remove the implant. It is just an experimental implant. We can’t keep it any longer. We don’t know what effects it could have in the long term, ”José María Sabater tells me. The researcher knows that his developments today are the beginning of a technology that in just a decade will offer great hope. In ten years, we will meet again.

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