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Rebuilding Lives With New Technology

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We sit on the precipice of amazing technologies, and we are just scratching the surface of the immense potential they can deliver.

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Here's how it works: FES applies small pulses to paralyzed muscles, which in turn causes them to contract and relax. The process can improve bone density and circulation, as well as strengthen muscles.

Fact is, lack of mobility can give the wheelchair-bound serious issues with their urinary, respiratory, and digestive systems, among other problems. So the Vanderbilt device not only provides patients with newfound freedom, but it also can improve their health.

In this case, I believe Parker Hannifin could have a winner on its hands. No doubt, it's looking at a big market. The US alone has more than 230,000 people living with spinal-cord injuries. About 155,000 of them are paraplegics. It costs well over $1 million to treat each patient over a lifetime.

It's hard to say what the market could be worth, but Thomson Reuters reported that ABI Research forecast a market of $320 million for bionic exoskeletons within ten years. One thing's for certain: This is a fast-moving field.

There's also Agro Medical Technologies of Israel. It's now selling a version of its ReWalk unit for personal use in Europe. In the US, the ReWalk is approved for use in rehab clinics, but permission for home use is pending.

And back in May, I told you about Ekso Bionics of Berkeley, Calif. The firm began with funding from a research arm of the Pentagon, and now has its bionic suits working at several US rehab centers.

As I see it, the fact that three firms have entered this field is a great sign of progress. It means we are reaching critical mass in our bid to restore motion to people with serious spinal injuries.

This is one of the reasons I love to write about the Era of Radical Change. It seems that every day I come across another new advance that has the potential not just to change the world but to improve people's lives on the most basic level.

I pay especially close attention to the field of spinal-cord injuries for a deeply personal reason. When I was 19 or 20, I was out on my motorcycle one day when I came upon the scene of a crash involving another motorcycle. As fate would have it, I knew the crash victim. Chris and I had been friends since junior high. He survived, but lost the use of his legs because of trauma to the spine. He's been confined to a wheelchair his whole adult life.

So don't be surprised if in the near future you see my friend Chris walking down the street in his own robotic suit.

Editor's Note: This article was written by Michael A. Robinson of Money Morning.

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