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University of Maryland School of Medicine Receives NIH Funding to Further Develop New In-Home Stroke Rehabilitation Device

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

 Jill Whitall, PhD, is co-creator of the Tailwind device that helps stroke patients recover mobility.

Baltimore firm Encore Path shares award to commercialize patented device

Stroke survivors who have lost the use of an arm because of a stroke will soon have access to an in-home exercise device to help activate new brain pathways to improve arm function. A grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) will enable further refinement of the patented device, to be called Tailwind, which was developed at the University of Maryland School of Medicine. Tailwind will be available to recovering stroke patients this fall.

Clinical studies show that Tailwind improves arm movement in stroke survivors who have been paralyzed for months, even years, after a stroke. Through a licensing partnership with the School of Medicine, Baltimore-based medical device company Encore Path will market the invention in a compact, retractable and portable design. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has designated Tailwind as an exercise device for stroke patients. The $120,000 Small Business Innovation Research grant, from the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, is awarded to both the School of Medicine and Encore Path.

University of Maryland co-inventors Jill Whitall, Ph.D., a professor in the Department of Physical Therapy and Rehabilitation Science, and Sandra A. McCombe Waller, P.T., Ph.D., an assistant professor in the same department, created Tailwind through research they conducted in the late 1990s at the School of Medicine. The earlier version of their device was called BATRAC, an acronym that stands for the type of physical therapy it promotes: bilateral arm training with rhythmic auditory cueing.

In 2004, Drs. Whitall and McCombe Waller published a study in The Journal of the American Medical Association, which showed that using the device helped patients who had suffered a stroke at least six months earlier. After six weeks of using the device three times a week, stroke survivors who improved their ability to use and control their muscles and movements also demonstrated a re-organization of the brain indicating that a healthy part of the brain took over the function of damaged parts. “There seems to be some benefit of improved motor function in a significant portion of the people we have tested some years after their stroke,” says Dr. Whitall.  “This NIH grant will enable us to advance Tailwind to help patients aim for specific goals in their recovery in the privacy of their homes.”  

So far, the device has been tested only in patients six or more months after their first stroke. Drs. McCombe Waller and Whitall have received funding to test the upgraded device in the sub-acute hospital setting, with patients who recently had a stroke.

The NIH grant will enable Encore Path to create additional software that will allow therapists to measure patient progress. “What I find truly exciting is that we have a tremendous partnering opportunity with the University of Maryland to invent, develop and research practical and cost-effective rehabilitation technologies that will advance the recovery of stroke survivors everywhere," says Encore Path CEO Kristen Appel. See www.encorepath.com.

The National Stroke Association says there are six million stroke survivors in the United States. Stroke is the third leading cause of death, and the number one cause of adult disability.

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