For a recovering stroke patient, no one person may be more important than the physical therapist devoted to rehabilitating the body. This "relearning" of the physical functions of life can be frustrating for the patient; fear of slipping or falling during training sessions is ever-present.

Once the patient is hooked up to an exercise system, there is only so much hands-on treatment a therapist can do (other than monitor the repetitive motions of the exercise machine).

But now, patients learning to walk again after a stroke and neurological injuries are benefiting from a new device in the KineAssist Robot, made by Kinea Design (Evanston, Illinois), which represents a giant leap forward in effectiveness for people learning to walk again after a stroke or neurological injuries.

The robot, the first of its kind to be used in a community-based hospital setting, was demonstrated recently at Alexian Rehabilitation Hospital (Elk Grove Village, Illinois). A new prototype of the robot is being introduced following three years of successful clinical trials at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago (RIC) to refine and fine-tune its unique features and capabilities.

The KineAssist Walking & Balance Exercise System was developed through a joint venture of Kinea Design, the RIC and Chicago PT.

Dave Brown, a co-founder of Kinea Design, told Medical Device Daily that he likes to think of the device as a "cobot." By this, Brown means that "the robot is driven by the intentions of the user and the therapist. There are four motion sensors that can pick up individual movements of the patient. It allows the therapist to directly assist in the movement of the patient ... not just be a bystander as the machine goes through repetitive motions with a patient [compared to other rehabilitation devices]."

The KineAssist uses its robotic technology to help patients learn to walk forward and backward, step sideways, climb stairs and regain the balance, strength and mobility to carry on daily activities without the fear of falling.

The robot frees up therapists allows them to interact with and safely challenge patients with real-life tasks, while the robot fully supports and holds patients in a safe position even if they lose their balance.

The KineAssist allows the patient total mobility and portability. The harness on the robot was designed by the same team that designs harnesses for Cirque du Soleil. The patient is secured with upper and lower straps and allows for full body weight-supported treadmill training.

The robot can be used in a variety of clinical settings, down hospital hallways, even outside.

Therapists can adjust the robot's level of resistance and other variables by touch screen, a new level of control for therapists as they help patients progressively build strength and flexibility. The KineAssist's computer screen also displays patient performance data for therapists and patients to measure their progress.

"Through cutting-edge research discoveries like the KineAssist, [we are] positioned to deliver the most advanced clinical treatments which help RIC to set the standards in rehabilitation care and provide patients with the best functional outcomes," said Elliot Roth, MD, chief academic officer of RIC. "RIC is thrilled to export this technology to its longest-standing alliance partner, Alexian Rehabilitation Hospital, to help patients in the northwestern suburban communities to regain ability after stroke."

The KineAssist is currently used for clinical settings, but Brown told MDD that he can envision a home-use version on the horizon. "We would need to reduce the scale of the device, from the 500-pound gorilla [it currently is] to something a little more manageable for the home," he said.

The KineAssist will be used initially with up to 30 stroke patients participating in therapy research at Alexian.

Alexian Rehabilitation Hospital offers a full range of inpatient, day rehabilitation and outpatient services in partnership with the RIC. It is a member of the Alexian Brothers Hospital Network, which provides the nearly 2 million residents of Chicago's Northwest suburbs with advanced medical care. RIC provides care to patients for a range of conditions from acute brain and spinal cord injury to chronic arthritis, pain and sports injuries.