Regaining Control After Stroke

From optimizing the design of prosthetic feet to building cheaper wheelchairs, mechanical engineers are finding ways to improve the quality of life for those living with the aftermath of disease. One such tool is the MIT-MANUS—a robot developed by Neville Hogan SM ’73, ME ’76, PhD ’77, the Sun Jae Professor of Mechanical Engineering, to help stroke victims recover and regain mobility.

“They say no two snowflakes are alike—well, no two stroke patients are alike, either,” says Hogan. “That makes the problem spectacularly complicated.” Hogan has collaborated with neurologists and neuroscientists on understanding the process of recovery and basic motor control in the brain. He used this knowledge to develop robots that interact with stroke patients and help them regain control of their movements.

MIT-MANUS was originally designed to help restore motor function in stroke patients’ shoulders and elbows. Patients strap their forearm into a brace attached to a robotic arm and grasp onto a controller connected to a video screen. On the screen, a video game provides patients with prompts to move their arm and wrist. If patients are unable to fully move their arm on their own, MIT-MANUS provides guidance and assists their movements. The robot then tracks and stores this data for physical therapists and specialists to analyze.

“In clinical trials of MIT-MANUS we found that there was a reduction of impairment in joints exercised through use of the robot,” says Hogan. Over the years the scope of this robot-aided therapy for stroke victims has grown beyond hands and arms: Hogan and his collaborators have put together a robotic gym that helps deliver localized therapy to various limbs and joints throughout the body.