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Device Developed By WashU Physician Helps Stroke Patients Regain Hand Movement

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Elizabethe Holland Durando
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The IpsiHand Upper Extremity Rehabilitation System helps people disabled by stroke regain significant control over their arm and hand function by using their minds.

Paralysis of the hand or arm impacts a majority of stroke survivors. Previously, researchers and medical providers thought that when chronic stroke patients didn’t regain motor function in their hands after a few months, the ability was gone forever.

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“The classic understanding is that six months after a stroke, the likelihood for recovery is exceedingly small,” said Dr. Eric Leuthardt, a professor of neurosurgery at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis and chief scientific officer at Neurolutions Inc.

Now, there’s new hope for that population.

Leuthardt and his colleagues’ IpsiHand Upper Extremity Rehabilitation System recently received market authorization from the Food and Drug Administration. The device has stroke patients utilize a robotic exoskeleton on their hand and wrist, allowing them to open and close their hand using their minds.

“As it turns out, some of the information for that intent to move is on the uninjured side of the brain. We, over the years, have discovered how to pick up that signal — first invasively, then noninvasively — and how to convert those brain signals into a movement that allows the person to think about it and control that robotic orthosis that opens and closes [their] hand when they think about it.”

Over time, through practice with the device, patients regain control of their arms and hands — eventually being able to move without the help of the IpsiHand system, “because essentially,” Leuthardt said, “the system has helped train them to rewire their brains.”

On Friday’s St. Louis on the Air, Leuthardt discussed how the device works and how the company is gearing up for commercial distribution within the year. Webster Groves resident Mark Forrest, who participated in a trial of the device several years ago, also shared his experience.

“My hand today — now I'm holding things with it,” Forrest said. “I just got done building a boat for fishing. So I've improved quite a bit. I have use of my arm and movement with my hands and fingers. I still have a hard time picking up things, but at least I can hold things.”

Dr. Eric Leuthardt and Mark Forrest join St. Louis on the Air

Leuthardt hopes the IpsiHand system brings Forrest’s experience to others suffering in the aftermath of a stroke.

“People told him it wasn't going to get better. People say that it's not going to happen,” he said. “And here we have the system, you put it on, and you think about moving your hand, and your hand actually gets moved by this robotic exoskeleton. And I think that's kind of a moment of reinitiating motivation — hope that, you know, ‘Hey, this is something that can potentially work for me.’”

St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is hosted by Sarah Fenske and produced by Alex Heuer, Emily Woodbury, Evie Hemphill and Lara Hamdan. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr.

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Emily is the senior producer for "St. Louis on the Air" at St. Louis Public Radio.

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