In the US alone, there are nearly 250,000 individuals with spinal cord injuries that partially or entirely inhibit regular motor functions. For them, standing and walking around freely remains the stuff of dreams. Now, using a revolutionary exoskeleton walking device invented by Dr. Amit Goffer called ReWalk, which was recently approved for home and communal use by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in the United States, wheelchair-bound individuals will be able to move freely and experience what it feels like to learn to ‘ReWalk’.
Following the announcement of FDA approval for the ReWalk device earlier this week, Dr. Goffer’s company, ARGO Medical Technologies, which is based in Israel, will attempt to raise $40-50 million on Nasdaq at a company value of $250-300 million. ReWalk’s growing international fan base includes among its notable members President Barak Obama, who praised the device while visiting Israel last year.
Enter the age of the exoskeleton
At the forefront of disruptive medical technology, ReWalk’s exoskeleton is powered not by robots, but by a computer and motion sensors that work together to mimic natural gait. The revolutionary system corrects itself to pick up slight changes in the user’s center of gravity; can be adjusted to a functional walking speed and even enables users to climb and descend staircases. Thirty-one year-old Claire Lomas was even able to complete the London Marathon in 2012 using the ReWalk device, albeit in a total of 17 days.
With FDA approval and the likely IPO, the device now looks set to put the wheelchair for paraplegics in the back pages of history books.
“It is physically hard work and incredibly frustrating at times to get the technique right, but when I make progress, it gives me a fantastic feeling,” Lomas told the Telegraph, following completion of the marathon. Lomas here refers to the ReWalk training process, which usually takes users up to a week to master and involves the use of the ReWalk Rehabilitation system, a product that was approved by the FDA for use in rehabilitation centers long before this week’s approval of the ReWalk Personal for home and communal use.
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In order to once again learn walk on their own, new ReWalkers train themselves to tilt their bodies forward in order to take a step and to continue moving in unison with the system. Soon people who only dreamed of standing, walking around, turning in different directions and climbing and descending stairs are once again able to feel the joy of these “simple” movements.
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Those who have used ReWalk, including paralyzed US Marine Corps Veteran Captain Derek Herrera, who called the system “incredible”, assert that it improves mental and physical health, aids with digestion, cardiovascular health and the building of muscle mass.
The mobility to test out all terranes
Dr. Goffer’s goal in the invention of the ReWalk device was to allow those with debilitating spinal cord injuries to move freely at home, work, in social situations and even on the trail. As he puts it, “The person walks the system, the system does not walk them.”
However, the ReWalk, which has already been in full use in Europe for over two years, is not yet available for purchase in the US, despite the FDA approval. It also comes with a hefty price of about $69,500 for one system, which in reality is only a fraction of the half a million dollars that most paraplegics will pay for conventional care in the US.
But as the FDA approval and the upcoming IPO shows, ReWalk, just like the people it helps to walk, is beating all the odds in the fight for life-changing medical devices.
Photos: Courtesy of ARGO Medical Technologies