Duschenne muscular dystrophy is a hereditary and degenerative disease which destroys the involuntary muscle cells. The deterioration begins in infancy and reduces the patient´s range of motion until it finally produces cardio-respiratory arrest around the age of 25. The bitter end cannot be completely avoided; however through daily physical therapy treatments patients can achieve an improved quality of life. To further these efforts, the young innovator Michal Mikulski has designed the Luna EMG robot, specialized in muscular rehabilitation. This automaton´s capabilities can be adapted to each patient´s specific needs, which allows the Luna EMG to be used not only to treat patients with Duchenne muscular dystrophy but also any person suffering from muscular paralysis.
“Its electromyographic sensors allow the robot to detect the neurological impulses that cause functional muscles to contract, but in the case of these patients, do not produce the desired muscle movement”, Mikulski explains. Once detected, Luna´s motors move the patient´s limb in the same way a healthy person would move. The effect on the patient is to let them see, very emotionally when it´s the first time, how their efforts to move the limb which they are unable to move by themselves materializes in actual movement.
Luna contains a set of interchangeable parts which allow it to be used for the rehabilitation of any muscular group involved in the movement of every joint. Apart from its use in patients with different types of muscular atrophy, it can also be used in those cases where the patient only needs to regain strength after an injury or an operation. Thanks to its ability to adjust its resistance to the force that each patient is able to exercise, Luna could replace the classic weight lifting and pulley based exercises so typically included in rehabilitation treatments.
In 2013 Mikulski, a biomedical engineer with a Master´s Degree in Robotics, was working on his doctorate at the Silesian University of Technology (Poland) when Iveta Spolnikova, the mother of a Duschenne muscular dystrophy patient, contacted him. She had heard about Mikulski´s experience with exoskeletons used for muscular rehabilitation in paraplegics and patients with muscular atrophy and multiple sclerosis. Determined to support others in the same situation as her son, she had founded the Salamander Foundation and she wanted to know whether there was some type of machine that could help with physical therapy treatments.
Two years later, EGZOTech, the company founded by Mikulski, launched Luna EMG, after calling upon the help of a group of Duschenne muscular dystrophy patients from the Salamander Foundation to fine tune the product. “This robot could allow a physical therapist to provide quality care for a larger number of patients”, says the young engineer, who believes that this could alleviate the bottleneck in the access to these therapies caused by the lack of sufficient qualified professionals.
In the eyes of Piotrz Kaczmarek, a profesor at the University of Poznan (Poland) and jury member for MIT Technology Review´s Innovators Under 35 Poland awards, the company founded by Michal Mikulski has a realistic commercialization plan that makes Luna EMG an attractive option for small health care and physical therapy centers.