A robotic lower limb exoskeleton to promote functional walking recovery of patients with spinal cord injuries, created by the Biomechanical Engineering Lab (BIOMEC) of the Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya (UPC), is one of the 23 biomedical research projects selected in the third edition of the CaixaImpulse Programme, organized by “la Caixa” Foundation and Caixa Capital Risc, to promote the transfer of knowledge in biomedicine to market and society, with the creation of biotechnological companies.

Project description

Every year, around the world, between 250.000 and 500.000 people suffer a spinal cord injury. This injury causes disability, which in turn: carries secondary complications like heart disease or diabetes, involves high economic costs both for the patient and society and complicates social and occupational inclusion of patients. People with a spinal cord injury (SCI) could be able to participate in over-ground gait training if they had a robotic exoskeleton to restore the leg movements that were damaged by the injury. However, most of the exoskeletons that are currently on the market are expensive, heavy, complex to operate and not adapted to the patient.

The ABLE exoskeleton is a low-cost, light and easy-to-use lower limb exoskeleton with only the essential mechanisms and sensors to promote functional walking recovery of patients with SCI. It consists of three modular components: an actuation system at the knee that acts as an artificial muscle, a sensor at the shank that detects the user’s intention, and a backpack containing the electronics and power supply. The actuation and sensor modules are installed on the current passive orthopaedic supports, which are usually owned by the target patients. This affordable device will allow patients to take an active role in their own rehabilitation, either at home or in a clinical setting.

The project is based on the research carried out since 2010 by BIOMEC, in collaboration with universities of La Coruña and Extremadura, through 3 competitive projects funded by MINECO. To date the device has been tested in a patient with SCI who showed an increase in walking speed, step frequency, stride length and balance. Thanks to the CaixaImpulse funding, the exoskeleton will be tested in 5 subjects with SCI. The ABLE project counts with the collaboration of Institut Guttmann Neurorehabilitation Hospital, and orthopaedic companies like Ortopèdia Grau Soler and Ortopedia Prim.

The ABLE is one of the 23 projects that will receive funding from the CaixaImpulse programme, in its third call. The selected projects were presented during a press conference held on July 5th at the Palau Macaya, in Barcelona. The presentation was chaired by Jaume Giró, managing director of “la Caixa” Foundation, and Marcelino Armenter, managing director of CriteriaCaixa and chairman of Caixa Capital Risc. The project leaders of the two best-rated projects of the CaixaImpulse Programme 2017, Josep Maria Font (ABLE) and Andreu Martínez (Corify), had the opportunity to present briefly their projects during the event.

The CaixaImpulse Programme will provide BIOMEC not only with 70.000 € funding to further develop the project and work on the valorization plan, but also with mentors to monitor and support the future spin-off, networking and expert advice to generate business opportunities and training in key areas. The ABLE team will be formed by Josep Maria Font, Associate Professor at UPC and Director of BIOMEC, Dr. Joan Vidal, Head of the Spinal Cord Injury Unit at Institut Guttmann and Alfons Carnicero, Industrial Engineer with biomedical specialization and experience at both institutions UPC and Institut Guttmann.

Furthermore, the ABLE project has been awarded with one of the three EIT-Health Mentions due to the excellence and accomplishment of the EIT-Health values. EIT-Health is a Knowledge and Innovation Community (KIC) established by the European Institute for Innovation & Technology (EIT) to promote innovation and entrepreneurship in the biomedicine and health sector.

Complete list of the related links:

Info of the project: https://caixaimpulse.com/en/projects/-/caixaimpulse/project/ABLE

News at La Vanguardia: http://www.lavanguardia.com/economia/20170706/423920835209/caixaimpulse-proyectos-biotec-lacaixa.html

News at El Periódico: http://www.elperiodico.com/es/ciencia/20170904/exoesqueleto-robotico-upc-para-lesionados-medulares-6263841

News at El Plural: https://www.elplural.com/tech/2017/10/19/exoesqueleto-able-volver-caminar-bajo-coste

News at Segre: https://www.segre.com/es/noticias/guia/2017/07/28/un_exoesqueleto_made_lleida_24536_1111.html

News at La Razón: http://www.larazon.es/local/cataluna/los-unicornios-existen-NC15530863

News at UPC: https://saladepremsa2.upc.edu/al-dia/mes-noticies/un-exosquelet-robotic-que-ajuda-a-caminar-distingit-pel-programa-caixaimpulse

Blog about the exoskeleton at CIT-UPC: http://blog.cit.upc.edu/?m=201707&lang=ca

Video about ABLE exoskeleton during CaixaImpulse Programme press release: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F3nYhKqgjBc