Brooks Rehab unveils advanced robotics-based spine treatment

The treatment uses a robotic exoskeleton to improve patients' walking ability

By Jim Piggott - Reporter

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - As anyone who’s injured their spinal cord can attest, coming back from that injury is no easy feat. But it may now get easier at Brooks Rehabilitation, thanks to an advanced, robotics-based treatment.

The medical device, known as a Hybrid Assistive Limb, or HAL, is currently only available in Jacksonville. It was unveiled Friday afternoon at the Brooks Cybernic Treatment Center.

“We’ve already seen the results of improved mobility and ability to walk in patients with spinal cord injury at several international locations that are providing this technology,” said Dr. Geneva Tonuzi, the facility’s medical center.

The treatment, already in use in Japan and Germany, won approval from the Food and Drug Administration in December. It is designed to fit a patient’s lower limbs and upper body, and it is controlled by the wearer’s brain signals.

Maverick Moody, a patient at Brooks, became a paraplegic as a result of an ATV accident. He said the technology has helped him move closer to his goal of one day walking again -- without any help.

"I do have signals getting down to the robot to make it move, but it's assisting me through the steps, so I get my signal strong enough then to move on my own," he said.

Here’s how it works, according to Brooks Rehab:

  • Sensors are attached to the patient’s lower extremities
  • When the patient wants to move, their muscles get nerve signals from the brain and then bio-electrical signals are detected on the skin.
  • HAL uses sensors to pick up on these signals and then helps translate them into physical movement, while also augmenting the user’s strength and balance.

HAL is produced by Cyberdyne, Inc., a Japanese medical company founded in 2004. The technology is the brainchild of president and CEO Dr. Yoshiyuki Sankai, who teaches at the University of Tsukaba.

“I’m pleased that Cybernic Technology will now benefit patients in the U.S., helping to improve their walking ability again as well as gain other functional and physiological benefits,” said Sankai.

While the technology is available in Jacksonville, it’s not currently covered by insurance because it is brand new.

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