University of Twente engineers have developed the A-Gear: a robotic arm that supports the daily activities of people suffering from the muscular disease Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy. The first prototype, a body-connected support aid, can be worn under the clothing and support independent operation of the arm.
Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy, which occurs in approximately 1 in 5000 live born boys, is a genetic disorder characterized by progressive muscle degeneration and weakness. As a result, boys with Duchenne gradually lose the ability to use their arms.
The researchers' active arm support is controlled by electrical (EMG) muscle signals or minimum muscle strength from the arm. An additional passive arm support does not require motors.
"During the research, there were a number of participants who had been unable to independently move their arms for between three and five years and they were able to complete the tests set out in the tasks," said Joan Lobo-Prat, researcher at the MIRA research centre for Biomedical Technology and Technical Medicine. "The freedom of movement and the functionality of the arm increased when the subjects used the prototype."
By measuring the arm function of patients of different ages, the Twente team also obtained an impression of how the arm function changes over the course of the illness, and accordingly, how to adjust the arm support over time.