Gerard Francisco 2016Five lower-extremity robotic exoskeletons are now in use at TIRR Memorial Hermann, thanks to the generosity of donors, our researchers at the Center for Wearable Exoskeletons, and their collaborators here and abroad. Four are dedicated to research on gait and mobility in patients with spinal cord injury and stroke, and one is in use at TIRR Memorial Hermann Outpatient Rehabilitation-Kirby Glen to facilitate recovery and community reintegration in various patient populations.

We are the only U.S. site for the international study of the H2 NeuroExo, a smart lower-limb robotic exoskeleton developed by José Pons Rovira, a research professor in the Neural Rehabilitation Group at the Instituto Cajal in Madrid. Researchers working with the H2 are also examining the use of noninvasive scalp electroencephalography to discover specific brain wave patterns associated with learning to walk using the exoskeleton.

Only a few centers in the world have access to technology that provides a direct communication pathway between a noninvasively wired brain and an external device. The knowledge we gain from these studies will be used to develop biorobots and powered wearable exoskeletons in collaboration with other laboratories at the NeuroRecovery Research Center, ultimately benefiting our patients and providing the rehabilitation community with a greater understanding of what exoskeletons can and cannot do.

These devices are so new that systematic investigations of their therapeutic benefits are lacking in our field. We don’t yet understand how rehabilitative training with exoskeletons triggers neuroplasticity, and we’re grateful to every new study participant for teaching us more about the brain’s amazing ability to reshape itself and form new connections.

Gerard E. Francisco, MD
Chief Medical Officer
TIRR Memorial Hermann
Chair, Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation
McGovern Medical School

Spring 2017 Edition