Can Tibion’s Bionic Leg Rewire Stroke Victims’ Brains?

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used in different phases to provide either high power or high speed, depending on input from the foot sensor and other sensors. There’s also a clutch that decouples the motors when a patient needs to swing his leg freely, in preparation for a step forward.

Other companies are working on robotic-assist devices for stroke victims and others with impaired mobility. Berkeley Bionics in Berkeley, CA, is developing a bionic exoskeleton called eLEGS, and Remsberg joined Tibion from Swiss medical device company Hocoma, where he helped build the Lokomat, a $300,000 machine that’s considered the state of the art in locomotion therapy. But Remsberg believes that these competing technologies don’t trigger the same neural rewiring as the Tibion device. “There are all these great technologies, but they basically set the trajectory, so once you press the ‘Go’ button, all you can change is the speed, not the path,” he says. “The neuroplastic effect is not seen, because the patient is not required to do anything. For robotic rehabilitation to deliver on its promise is going to require an intention-based device.”

Remsberg was persuaded to invest and take the CEO role in late 2009 after he saw the early clinical results. “In 25 years of working in this field, I have never seen anything this profound,” he says. The company is working to close a Series B funding round with Claremont Creek and other investors “in the near future,” Remsberg says, and is gearing up to for a 24-patient trial at New York Presbyterian Hospital and a 45-patient trial at a Veterans Administration facility in Gainesville, FL.

If the chronic stroke survivors in those studies show a significant and lasting improvement in their walking gait and balance, it could eventually change the standard of care in stroke rehabilitation, Remsberg says. “The medical community won’t be able to justify treating one stroke survivor with a bionic leg and one without,” he says. “There are not too many of these opportunities in a business career.”

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Wade Roush is a contributing editor at Xconomy. Follow @wroush

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