Robotic suit, iPS therapy to be tried in spinal cord rehab

Keio University is joining hands with Cyberdyne to develop treatments for spinal cord injuries that combine induced pluripotent stem cell therapy with the startup’s wearable cybersuit.

The project will proceed in two stages starting this year, with the two parties entering into a partnership agreement.

First, between 20 to 30 patients, many of whom have suffered from debilitating spinal-cord injuries for half a year, will practice walking while wearing Cyberdyne’s robotic assistance suit, called the HAL for Medical Use. These sessions will take place three to five times a week and last an hour each day.

The suit detects nerve signals generated by the brain instructing the leg to walk, then activates the motorized limbs, aiding motion. The trials will determine how well this form of rehabilitation improves patients’ ambulatory functions.

In addition, Keio professor Hideyuki Okano will conduct clinical trials by summer 2017 in which nerve stem cells grown from iPS cells will be transplanted into patients that gave suffered spinal cord injuries in order to spur growth of new nerve tissue.

If the results prove positive, Keio and Cyberdyne will commence the second phase a few years later, where chronically handicapped patients unable to recover sufficiently using HAL alone will receive iPS stem cell transplants and resume rehab sessions with HAL.

Both iPS regenerative therapy and the HAL suit were developed in Japan, with the government recognizing the suit as a medical device in November. Over 100,000 people in Japan are paralyzed or endure other effects of spinal cord injuries. About 5,000 people or more suffer spinal cord injuries each year.

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