Robotic glove designed to help stroke patients

The University of Texas at Arlington has developed a glove that provides new pathways for stroke patients to recover.

ARLINGTON —The notes used to come easily for Arlington piano teacher Ann Harris. But not any more.

"I still have moments of looking at the notes and it not meaning anything," she said.

Four years ago, Harris became one of an estimated 800,000 Americans who suffer from a stroke. Strokes can cause all sorts of damage — including loss of hand movement.

But research scientists at the University of Texas at Arlington Research Institute have created a device that has the potential to make a big difference for patients like Harris.

On Monday, they showed us the prototype of the soft robotic "rehab glove." It's a portable device that reminds the brain of what the hand is supposed to do. It's currently being evaluated for safety and usability by researchers at the UNT Health Science Center.

"What we're trying to do is create a device so patients can take home and therapists can program and apply therapy in a home setting," explained UTARI principal research scientist Muthu Wijesundara. He said current technology that works to move the hand and rebuild memories is bulky and not widely available. This device is small, and can be taken home.

It will still be some time before patients can find a device like this in doctor's offices or rehab centers; it's being tested, and needs to be approved by the FDA and produced.

But the hope is that once it's approved, it will have a far-reaching impact.

"This needs to be available to rural communities, to our wounded warriors... to anybody right after an injury," said Rita Patterson of the UNT Health Science Center.

The cost is estimated to be $2,500-$3,000 per device once they're produced. In total —  from start to finish — this research project will have cost about $1 million, Wijesundara said.

Luckily for stroke survivor Ann Harris, her fingers still work, and playing the piano has been integral in her rehabilitation.

"I would miss it terribly," she said, adding that her fingers are "a voice... one of my speaking voices."


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