ReWalk and Wyss Institute Working to Develop Soft Exoskeletons for MS and Others with Limb Disabilities

Patricia Silva, PhD avatar

by Patricia Silva, PhD |

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MS research collaboration

ReWalk Robotics, Ltd., announced it is partnering with the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard University to further develop and test lightweight exoskeleton systems for people with disabilities affecting their lower limbs, including those with multiple sclerosis (MS).

“This is a very exciting day for the soft suit technology,” Conor Walsh, a core faculty member at the Wyss Institute and the John L. Loeb Associate Professor at Harvard’s John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, said in a press release. Professor Walsh is also the founder of the Harvard Biodesign Lab. “ReWalk brings commercialization expertise and experience in the area of wearable robotics and complements our translation-focused research. Ultimately, this deal paves the way for this technology to make its way to patients.”

The five-year agreement involves the licensing of intellectual property, and will center on the development of “soft suit” technologies to help people with MS, those who suffered a stroke, and elderly people with mobility limitations, among others.

“Our collaboration with ReWalk is a wonderful example of the Wyss Institute model in action,” said Don Ingber, MD, PhD, founding director of the Wyss Institute. “We work with industry to help de-risk the technologies we develop, both technically and commercially, and thereby expedite their translation into real world applications.”

Early pilot studies in stroke patients were conducted at the institute, together with researchers and faculty from Boston University, to test potential uses of the exoskeleton technology. ReWalk will work with the Wyss Institute on the continued development of lightweight designs for clinical studies, and to apply for regulatory approvals and commercialize the systems.

Like the elderly, most stroke and MS patients do not need the structural support of the rigid exoskeleton systems, made for those with spinal cord injuries, that are now commercially available. The Wyss Institute has developed soft-suit prototypes that transmit power to key leg joints, with cable technologies that use software and mechanics similar to those developed by ReWalk. The cables connect to fabric-based designs that bind to the legs and feet, justifying a prototype being called a “soft suit.”

“There is a great need in the health care system for lightweight, lower-cost wearable exoskeleton designs to support stroke patients, individuals diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis and senior citizens who require mechanical mobility assistance,” said  Larry Jasinski, ReWalk’s chief executive officer. “This collaboration will help create the next generation of exoskeleton systems, making life-changing technology available to millions of consumers across a host of patient populations.”

The first commercial application is planned for stroke patients, followed by MS. It is estimated that 3 million stroke patients and 400,000 MS patients suffer from lower limb disability in the U.S. alone.

“Harvard and its Wyss Institute are pioneers in the development of technology in this space. The licensed Harvard patent portfolio currently includes 19 patent applications, which includes applications in at least six countries,” Jasinski said. “The applications cover the soft suit, control systems and methods of treating patients. Harvard and the Wyss Institute have built comprehensive research expertise in addition to the worldwide patent portfolio. There is no better partner than these renowned institutions with which to pursue the mission of bringing cutting-edge technology to disabled individuals around the world.”