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An extremely promising rehabilitation method developed by the University of Twente is to be put into practice before the end of 2011. LOPES is a robot which can help partially-paralysed patients regain their mobility. The Dutch government has great confidence in the technology and has awarded grants totalling 1.6 million euros to fast-track the implementation of LOPES in practice.

A stroke can often lead to partial paralysis. Certain areas of the brain have been deprived of blood and oxygen for so long that they effectively die and can no longer control specific nerves. The muscles which receive their 'instructions' from these nerves no longer function, even though both the nerves and the muscles remain perfectly healthy. Patients become reliant on others for even the simplest everyday activities.

Our bodies are able to compensate, at least to a degree. New connections are established between the unaffected areas of the brain and the nerves which control the muscles in, say, the arms and legs. However, they do not do so unaided. Intensive physiotherapy is required to stimulate this process. Rehabilitation can often take many months.

Rehabilitation therefore represents a substantial investment in time, effort and resources, and not only on the part of the patient. Hospitals must maintain a large staff for rehabilitation and physiotherapy, with an average of two employees to every patient. The therapists perform physically demanding work: they must manipulate the patient's limbs into the right position and must be on hand to catch the patient should he fall.

The Biomechanical Engineering department at the University of Twente has therefore developed the 'LOPES', a robotic application which will assist patient rehabilitation. LOPES stands for 'Lower Extremity Powered Exo-Skeleton' and is essentially an outer shell within which the patient can safely undertake intensive exercise. The robot provides support only when necessary, which speeds up the overall rehabilitation process.

LOPES represents an important healthcare innovation. It enables patients to spend more time exercising and regaining their mobility, while it will reduce the staffing requirement. In 2009, the Ministry of Economic Affairs awarded the LOPES project a grant of 800,000 euros under the 'Peaks in the Delta' programme to fast-track the introduction of LOPES in the Dutch healthcare system. The Province of Overijssel matched this amount to give a total development grant of 1.6 million euros. The first fully operational version of LOPES will be in use before the end of 2011.

Robot helps patients relearn to walk (from 2:35).