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An accident, a stroke, or a disease can leave someone paralyzed and unable to walk. That happens to more than 15 million people around the world each year.
But new technological advances and physical therapy could help some of them walk again.
Among the most promising is the use of robotic exoskeletons, like one made by Ekso Bionics. It looks a bit like a backpack that straps on the user’s back and around the midsection. Robotic ‘legs’ complete with foot panels extend from either side of the pack and wrap around the patient’s legs. A video game-style controller attaches to the pack with a long cord.
“I’m going to be a robot!”
Lindsey Stoefen has been doing physical therapy with the exoskeleton for an hour a day, as she works to recover from the rare disorder that put her in a wheelchair in October.
The 17-year-old athlete climbed into a specially designed exoskeleton for the first time in late April, after becoming an in-patient at Marianjoy Rehabilitation Hospital in Chicago.
She recalls being nervous. “I was like ‘Dang, I’m going to be a robot!’ I was scared at first. I was like, ‘Am I going to like it? Will I be okay?’ And once I got into it, I loved it.”
Lauren Bularzik, Lindsey’s physical therapist, says the exo robots help to accelerate the rehabilitation process. “For someone who takes a lot of energy to only walk a few feet, exo can get them up, can get them moving, it can supplement their movements, get that reciprocal pattern, encourage the correct motor planning.”
Beside speeding up recovery times, these robotic skeletons are especially helpful for those with paralysis, from spinal cord injuries and strokes. Using the machine can help some patients rewire their brains to use secondary muscles, so they can eventually walk again – without the device.
Scientists at the University of Notre Dame are leading the way with their work on wearable robots that allow patients to regain some or all of their mobility. But Patrick Wensing, assistant professor of mechanical engineering, says exoskeletons have one big drawback.
“While existing exoskeletons are very powerful, they don’t understand what the user wants to do. So in order to transition between activities in daily life, you often have to press a button interface to tell the exoskeleton ‘I would like to stand up now.’”
Wensing and his team are collaborating with Ekso Bionics, a leading developer of wearable robots, to create a machine that can understand what its user wants to do without implanted sensors and complicated control panels.
The new three-year project funded by The National Science Foundation’s robotic initiative, hopes to achieve a more fluid, intuitive system.
Taylor Gambon has spent the last year analyzing data from exoskeleton users and comparing them to models of everyday walking. “What we’re seeing is that slow walking in general, whether in the exoskeleton or just the human, is much different from walking at a speed that you would choose naturally.”
Later this year, the team will travel to Ekso Bionics’ California headquarters, where they will work directly with exoskeletons to design programs that interact with users of various disabilities, so that more people like Lindsey Stoefen can get back on their feet again. (VOA)
BEIJING — Chinese organizers have confirmed participants in next year's Winter Olympics will be strictly isolated from the general population and could face expulsion for violating COVID-19 restrictions.
Vice mayor and Beijing 2022 organizing committee official Zhang Jiandong told reporters Wednesday that those taking part in the games beginning Feb. 4 must remain in a "closed loop" for training, competing, transport, dining and accommodation.
A strict Olympic bubble has long been on the books, but Beijing has now made it official in keeping with its zero-tolerance approach to the pandemic. Athletes and other participants will also be tested regularly for the coronavirus before and during the Games. Family, spectators and sponsors from outside the country will not be allowed to attend.
"All participants of the Games and our Chinese staff and volunteers will implement the same policy," Zhang said. "They will be strictly separated from the external society.
"Those who do not comply with the epidemic prevention regulations may face severe consequences such as warning, temporary or permanent cancellation of registration, temporary or permanent disqualification or expulsion from the competition, and other punishment."
All participants must have been fully vaccinated at least 14 days prior to their departure for China.
China has enforced strict rules on mask wearing, quarantines and contact tracing that have largely succeeded in eliminating the local transmission of COVID-19, but imported cases and domestic infections continue to appear in daily reports.
"Indeed, epidemic prevention and control is the biggest challenge for us to host the Winter Olympic Games," Zhang told a news conference.
Wednesday marked 100 days until the Beijing Games. Organizers have held test events featuring international athletes at Olympic venues under strict conditions.
Japan imposed restrictive rules and an Olympic bubble during the July 23-Aug. 8 Summer Games in Tokyo, which had been postponed by 12 months because of the pandemic. (VOA/RN)
Keywords: China, Winter Olympics, Closed Loop, Epidemic Prevention
A cheap antidepressant reduced the need for hospitalization among high-risk adults with COVID-19 in a study that was looking for existing drugs that could be repurposed to treat coronavirus.
Researchers tested the pill used for depression and obsessive-compulsive disorder because it was known to reduce inflammation and looked promising in smaller studies.
They've shared the results with the U.S. National Institutes of Health, which publishes treatment guidelines, and they hope for a World Health Organization recommendation.
"If WHO recommends this, you will see it widely taken up," said study co-author Dr. Edward Mills of McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, adding that many poor nations have the drug readily available. "We hope it will lead to a lot of lives saved."
The pill, called fluvoxamine, would cost $4 for a course of COVID-19 treatment. By comparison, antibody IV treatments cost about $2,000 and Merck's experimental antiviral pill for COVID-19 is about $700 per course. Some experts predict various treatments eventually will be used in combination to fight the coronavirus.
Researchers tested the antidepressant in nearly 1,500 Brazilians recently infected with coronavirus who were at risk of severe illness because of other health problems, such as diabetes. About half took the antidepressant at home for 10 days, the rest got dummy pills. They were tracked for four weeks to see who landed in the hospital or spent extended time in an emergency room when hospitals were full.
In the group that took the drug, 11% needed hospitalization or an extended ER stay, compared to 16% of those on dummy pills.
The results, published Wednesday in the journal Lancet Global Health, were so strong that independent experts monitoring the study recommended stopping it early because the results were clear.
Questions remain about the best dosing, whether lower risk patients might also benefit and whether the pill should be combined with other treatments.
The larger project looked at eight existing drugs to see if they could work against the pandemic virus. The project is still testing a hepatitis drug, but all the others — including metformin, hydroxychloroquine and ivermectin — haven't panned out.
The cheap generic and Merck's COVID-19 pill work in different ways and "may be complementary," said Dr. Paul Sax of Brigham and Women's Hospital and Harvard Medical School, who was not involved in the study. Earlier this month, Merck asked regulators in the U.S. and Europe to authorize its antiviral pill. (VOA/RN)
Keywords: Antidepressant, Early COVID, Pandemic, Testing project
Even one of the world's most powerful tech CEOs can forget to unmute himself during a video chat. For Alphabet and Google CEO Sundar Pichai, one such embarrassing moment came as he began the chat with Kermit The Frog, a character from Muppets, on Google Meet recently. Sharing the two-minute video clip on Twitter on Wednesday, Pichai said: "Always remember to unmute thanks @KermitTheFrog for joining us on @YouTube #DearEarth and chatting about some of our shared interests."
The video was part of YouTube's "Dear Earth" series which aims to address climate challenges. "Hi there, Sundar," said Kermit, a Muppet character created in 1955, to which, Pichai replied but he was inaudible as he was on mute. "Sundar, I think you are on mute. Wow, can't believe I am talking to the CEO of Google, and he is on mute," Kermit said.
At that point, Pichai realised he was on mute. "Sorry, Kermit. I was on mute, and I've done it a few times this year like everyone else. I'm a huge fan of you and the muppets," replied the Google CEO. The video chat went smooth after the opening glitch, and Kermit The Frog and Pichai spoke about climate issues the world is grappling with. (IANS/ MBI)
Keywords: Google CEO Sundar Pichai, google meet, Kermit, dear earth, Alphabet and Google CEO.