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Engineering Stroke Recovery

Topic: Engineering Stroke Recovery

In his office in Northwestern’s Silverman Hall overlooking Lake Michigan, Igal Szleifer uses his left hand to fasten a black cloth harness across his blue polo shirt, then clips a robotic device called MyoPro around his forearm and fingers of his right arm. His wife, Ingrid, looks on.

A 12-year veteran of Northwestern Engineering’s faculty, Szleifer worked with undergraduates in Biomedical Engineering Capstone Design to develop a quantitative method to measure the effectiveness of this battery-powered hand- and arm-brace designed for people who have had strokes or spinal cord injuries.

It’s important business. Such measurement is necessary for MyoPro to become reimbursable by Medicare, Medicaid, and insurance companies and key to its marketability.

But it’s also tricky. Though nearly 3 million people in the US suffer from upper extremity paralysis, finding patients who are not only willing to test the upper-limb orthosis early in their recovery, but also able to articulate constructive feedback, can be difficult.

Unlike his other lab work focused on theoretical chemistry and modeling, the Christina Enroth-Cugell Professor of Biomedical Engineering’s role in evaluating the robotic orthosis was a very practical task.

Szleifer himself is a user of MyoPro.

“Igal is particularly insightful in general,” says Matt Glucksberg, professor of biomedical engineering at the McCormick School of Engineering, who served as the students’ adviser, “and just as much as ever after his stroke.”

In October 2015, one of the two carotid arteries that supply blood to the brain tore, paralyzing the right side of Szleifer’s body. Doctors told him he’d never walk again, and that severe aphasia had stolen all three languages he spoke.

“He is incredibly disciplined. He’s very determined to continue toward recovery,” says Glucksberg. “He has kept at it, even if the progress comes slowly.”

Early in his recovery, Szleifer joined the Shirley Ryan AbilityLab’s Intensive Comprehensive Aphasia Program, addressing his language impairment. More than four years after his stroke, he still attends occupational therapy several times a week.

Topic Discussed: Engineering Stroke Recovery

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