New robotic therapy can help stroke patients

While you read this story, someone in the United States will have a stroke.

For many, it can disable limbs, making even simple tasks next to impossible.

Now, a unique trial is helping these patients get back what they have lost.

Though he is only 23 years old, Spencer Telligman has made his mark as an artist.

Spencer says, "You're putting paint on canvas, and it feels great. It's just awesome."

Last January, a stroke took away the use of his right hand, the one he uses to paint.

"I've been worrying since it happened that I wouldn't be able to do anything anymore."

A unique clinical trial is restoring Spencer's confidence, and much more.

Patients do repetitive exercises and play games wearing a motorized robotic arm to help retrain their brain and make their own arm's function.

Dr. Andrew Butler of Emory University says, "Let's say the patient can do ten percent, then the robot will do 90 percent, and as you get better, if you can do 50 percent, the robot will do 50 percent."

There is one more key element to this trial: a drug that helps the brain re-learn.

"The drug targets that system, the learning and memory system."

After a lot of hard work, Spencer's arm function is improving.

Didi Heagerty, Spencer's mom, says, “I'm totally amazed everyday by the things he's capable of doing."

Today, he started drawing again.

Spencer says, "It's not at the level it used to be at, but I can draw. I feel like in the future, I can do anything."

It is a portrait of a young artist who is getting his life back, one day at a time.

The robotic arm used in the Emory University study electronically measures strength and range of motion to monitor patients' progress on a daily basis.

Studies have shown that robot-assisted therapy has measurable benefits for patients whose arms are weakened by a stroke.


STATS: Stroke is the third leading cause of death and one of the leading causes of serious, long-term disability in the U.S. Each year more than 700,000 Americans suffer from stroke, and approximately 85% of stroke survivors experience partial paralysis on one side of the body. (

BACKGROUND: A stroke occurs when blood supply to the brain is interrupted or severely reduced. Within minutes, brain cells begin to die causing permanent damage. There are two major types of stroke: ischemic stroke and hemorrhagic stroke. A stroke is a medical emergency. Prompt treatment is crucial. Early action can minimize brain damage and potential complications. The good news is that strokes can be treated and prevented, and fewer Americans now die of stroke. Better control of major risk factors, high blood pressure, smoking and high cholesterol, is likely responsible for the decline. (,

ROBOTICS: Robotic technology uses robotic devices to assist impaired limbs with performing repetitive motions, helping them regain strength and function. Robotics is one area of technology that has seen robust growth in rehabilitation applications, so much so that the presence of robotic devices in rehabilitation centers has become an expectation among patients, their caregivers, and therapists. Although rehabilitation robotic devices afford the opportunity to provide high doses of repetitive movement in a reliable and controllable manner, the role they play in the continuum of clinical care remains uncertain. Robotic-assisted therapy may be an effective alternative to enhance hand function recovery in patients with stroke. (,

EMORY'S STROKE CENTER: In 2002, MBNA America Bank made a significant contribution to the stroke program with a $7.5 million gift establishing the Emory-MBNA Stroke Center at the Emory Clinic. In 2005, Emory-affiliated Grady Memorial Hospital was the first public safety-net hospital in the country to be certified as a Primary Stroke Center by the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations (JCAHO). Emory University Hospital joined Grady as a Primary Stroke Center in 2006. From 2005 to 2007, stroke and related cerebrovascular disease research funding at Emory increased 25 percent, from $7.5 to $9.4 million, and includes genetics, physiology, neuroimaging, rehabilitation, endovascular surgery and neurosurgery. From 2003 to 2007, the number of patients treated at Emory for stroke and related conditions increased by 36 percent, to nearly 1,700.

Dr. Andrew Butler
Professor in the Department of Rehabilitation Medicine
Emory University

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