U.S. Approves Robotic Legs That Could Help Paralytics Walk Again

Sorcha Szczerbiak

When a person loses the use of his or her legs because of paralysis, the challenges ahead are undoubtedly life-changing. However, thanks to a pair of robotic legs that have just received approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), people who are paralyzed may get to enjoy the freedom to be more mobile and independent by walking again.

The robotic legs are marketed under the name ReWalk, and they are approved for use in people who have lost the use of their lower body due to spinal cord injuries. Since the medical invention is worn on the outside of the body, it was called an "exoskeleton" in a Bloomberg article.

Made by a company called Argo Medical Technologies, Inc., the robotic legs feature a metal brace that is fitted for each user. Additionally, there are motors at the ankles, knees and hips. People who are using the robotic legs must also wear a backpack that holds a power supply and computer.

Altogether, the robotic legs weigh 46 pounds. However, only 5 of those pounds are carried in the backpack. A remote control worn on the wrist is required for telling the ReWalk to stand, walk or sit, and people also use crutches to get more stability. Additionally, before using the robotic legs, patients and their caregivers must receive training.

The FDA approval is a great step for Americans who are curious about using the robotic legs to regain formerly lost independence. However, the device has been available in Europe for two years, and it was developed in 2001. The founder of Argo Medical, Amit Goffer, brought the product to life after he became paralyzed due to an all-terrain vehicle accident.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, spinal cord injuries are contributing factors to deaths in the United States. Out of every million people, there are about 15 to 40 new cases of spinal cord injuries each year. Currently, there are approximately 200,000 people who are living with spinal cord injuries, so there is certainly a viable market for the robotic legs. However, cost may be a prohibitive element for some patients. That's because the device costs $69,500.

The FDA gave approval to the ReWalk as part of a procedure intended for novel devices that are considered to pose a low to moderate risk. Possible side effects from using the robotic legs include hypertension, bruising and pressure sores. Would you give them a try if they were necessary for you?

[Image Credit: World News]