UC Berkeley researchers develop device to help lower limb paralysis patients regain mobility

Pierluigi Mantovani/Courtesy
The Toyota Mobility Conference held at Toyota Headquarters in Plano, Texas.

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A group of UC Berkeley researchers are in the process of developing a device that can help people with lower limb paralysis regain their mobility.

Evolution Devices is currently testing out their new device, EvoWalk, according to Evolution Devices co-founder Pierluigi Mantovani. The EvoWalk device has improved the walking form of patients with multiple sclerosis and stroke victims, and could be used to aid those with neuromuscular diseases such as lumbar degenerative disc disease and muscular dystrophy, according to the Evolution Devices website.

EvoWalk uses muscle stimulation to rehabilitate walking form and prevent falls, according to the Evolution Devices website. Mantovani said that the device’s wearable sleeve tracks the user’s walking motions with an artificial intelligence algorithm that learns the user’s steps and walking patterns.

The three co-founders of Evolution Devices — Mantovani, Pierre Karashchuk and Juan M. Rodriguez — met each other in the campus club Neurotechnology at Berkeley, according to Mantovani. He added that the team first built the device to help his father who has a progressive version of multiple sclerosis.

“(My father) is slowly losing his ability to walk. We built the first prototype to help him pick up his feet to walk,” Mantovani said. “In his case, it can prolong his walking ability, giving him a chance to walk more. He gets tired less when he walks.”

The Evolution Devices team received a $50,000 grant from the Toyota Mobility Foundation’s Mobility Unlimited Challenge Discovery Award, according to Mantovani. The team placed as one of the five finalists in the foundation’s Mobility Unlimited Challenge, which gave them another $500,000 grant to develop their idea. The final winner of the challenge will be awarded $1 million in Tokyo in 2020.

According to Mantovani, the team had to make sure that the devices were safe to use like any other type of medical device, which slowed the developmental process. Finding local community members who were able to give the researchers feedback was initially a challenge, but Mantovani said that the search has gotten easier thanks to local coverage.

Mantovani added that the Evolution Devices team was advised by researchers from UC San Francisco. Berkeley SkyDeck, Berkeley’s startup incubator,  also assisted the team with understanding their business and advised them on how to build, scale and connect to mentors. Through the Toyota Mobility Unlimited Challenge, the team was able to connect with experts and learn about manufacturing and designing safe devices.

“We’re all connected to the Berkeley system. I just learned a lot from being around bright people, whether they’re professors or students,” Mantovani said. “I definitely want to give a shoutout to all of the people who have been part of the team. We believe that mobility is definitely a human right. Everyone should be able to move.”

Contact Bella An at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @BellaAn_dc.