Science Scope

Meet the paralyzed woman with the bionic body

Posting in Healthcare

Claire Lomas, a paralyzed woman, has become the first person to take home an experimental robotic exoskeleton.

When you go home from the doctor's office, the most you usually take with you is a lollypop or a prescription. But one woman took home a lot more: a whole exoskeleton.

Claire Lomas is the first person to actually use the ReWalk suit at home. Lomas had used the suit to travel the route of the London Marathon over 17 days earlier this year, raising $317,900 for research into spinal damage. But it wasn't the marathon, or lighting the Paralympic cauldron (which she did recently in London), that really impressed her.

"One of the best experiences was standing at a bar," she told Reuters. "To be stood up in this means everything to me."

The suit isn't something you'll see every day. It costs around $72,500, although experts say that it could cut anywhere from $500,000 to $3 million worth in medical bills caused by wheelchair use. Paralyzed people often suffer from sores and a loss of bone density from sitting all day. The exoskeleton gets them up out of the chair, and could prevent these side effects.

There are around 6 million people in the U.S. and Europe currently using wheelchairs. The researchers estimate that about 250,000 of them might be eligible for an exoskeleton. Reuters reports:

Research into exoskeletons goes back 50 years but advances in software management systems and sensors have only recently made them practical.

Argo, which is backed by Israeli venture capitalists SCP Vitalife and Israeli Healthcare Ventures, is working on a similar device for quadriplegics, as well as a brain interface that could allow more intuitive 'thought control' of the exoskeleton.

As for Lomas, the exoskeleton has changed her life. After the accident, she has gotten married, had a baby, and is planning one biking from London to Paris using an electric bicycle. No more complaining that you've had a bad day, this paralyzed woman is going to bike across Europe.

Via: Reuters

Image: Ekso (note, this is not Claire Lomas)

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Rose Eveleth

Contributing Editor

Contributing Editor Rose Eveleth is a freelance writer, producer and designer based in Brooklyn, New York. Her work has appeared in Scientific American, OnEarth, Discover, New York Times, Story Collider and Radiolab. She holds degrees from the University of California, San Diego and New York University. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure