Robotic arm trial helps stroke victims

December 21, 2011 (CHICAGO)

Though he's only 23, stroke patient Spencer Telligman has made his mark as an artist.

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

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

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

A unique clinical trial is restoring his confidence, and much more.

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

"Let's say that the patient can do 10 percent, then the robot will do 90 percent, and as you get better, if you can move 50 percent, the robot will move 50 percent," said Dr. Andrew Butler Professor, Emory University Dept. of Rehabilitation Medicine.

There's one more key element to this trial: a drug that helps the brain relearn.

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

After a lot of hard work, Spencer's arm function is improving. Spencer has started drawing again.

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

A portrait of a young artist who's 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 in Taiwan have shown that robot-assisted therapy has measurable benefits for patients whose arms are weakened by a stroke.

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