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Project Details

Shadow of child on a swing

WREX

Robotic Exoskeleton to help children with neuromuscular disease

By Nemours

Project URL: nemours.org/pediatric-research/area/neuromuscular.html
Project Twitter: @Nemours

Organisation URL: nemours.org/welcome.html

  • Health
  • Social Exclusion
  • Physical Computing

One in 3,000 children born in the US suffer from forms of arthrogryposis – a condition that makes joints curve or stiffen, and muscles extremely weak. It’s a neuromuscular disease that causes severe life challenges. Kids can suffer from being unable to use their arms and legs, and help is needed to lift and sustain the use of underdeveloped muscles.

The Wilmington Robotic EXoskeleton, or WREX, is a device that provides that help. The WREX builds from the experience of researchers and engineers at Nemours/Alfred I. duPont Hospital for Children in Delaware.

The technology benefits from the increasing capability of 3D printing, as the exoskeleton can be individually customised for a child’s needs. A full set of plastic parts for one patient can be printed overnight, and by the end of the next day WREX is ready to be assembled and used. The printed parts combine with metal bars and resistance/elastic bands; the effect is to give a weightless feeling to a child’s arms.

Fifteen kids now use the device, which means they can feed themselves, play and hug. The immediate effects are only the beginning, as prolonged disuse of a child’s arms can negatively influence their cognitive and emotional development. Using WREX enables earlier arm use, and researchers are studying the results carefully to track the benefits. Kids have also gained muscle strength through the use of the exoskeleton – helping movements even when it’s not being used.

Nemours has invented a truly life-changing device, and the team behind WREX is continuing to work on improvements. The future WREX II includes small motors in the joints, allowing the child to control their arms even with profound weakness, and to carry heavier objects.

Image 'Children playground' courtesy of Enrico Donelli.

Last updated: 22nd of August, 2015

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