Modern Israeli inventions offer new hope, and opportunities, for the handicapped.

We all appreciate the feeling of a fresh breeze on our faces, the feeling of freedom as we take a jog or a walk. For too many people, however, injury or disease can make the joys of unimpaired movement a distant dream.

Here are some amazing Israeli medical breakthroughs that are helping people overcome their limitations and experience the freedom of mobility.

Miraculous Marathon

Claire Lomas walked the London Marathon, beginning on the marathon date, April 21, 2012. Her time was slow: 16 days, to be exact. But her feat electrified all of Britain, for this 32-year-old mother has been paralyzed from the chest down since a horse riding accident in 2007.

Ms. Lomas was able to walk the 26-mile course using a revolutionary new body suit, the ReWalk, developed by Israeli medical researcher Dr. Amit Goffer. The ReWalk works by providing support to enable paralyzed wearers remain upright. It then senses minute changes in pressure and direction in the wearer, and responds by mimicking the movements they indicate. Patients wearing the ReWalk can sit and stand, walk, and even climb stairs.

ReWalk

ReWalk is the world’s first commercially available upright walking technology for people with lower-limb disabilities. The 44-pound device is comprised of a brace support suit that integrates motors at the joints; an array of sensors; a computer-based control system; and rechargeable batteries. Sophisticated algorithms analyze body movements, which then trigger and maintain gait patterns as well as stair climbing and shifting from sitting to standing. Crutches provide extra stability for walking.

Mind Over Matter

Whereas the ReWalk amplifies slight body movements of the wearer, another Israeli invention allows paralyzed people to become more self-sufficient with no physical input at all.

Doctors in the Unites States are currently testing a robotic arm designed by the Israeli bio-tech company BrainGate, which has allowed a woman who was paralyzed by a stroke 15 years ago to take a sip of coffee from a robotically-controlled “arm.”

She controls the arm using sensors implanted in her brain. Sensors are placed in the brains of patients in the trials, which then detect the area of the brain in which activity – thought – is occurring. Patients imagine moving their own bodies, and this sends electronic signals from the sensors to the robotic arms which then mimic the desired movement. One man enrolled in the BrainGate trial reported, “I just imagined moving my own arm and [the robotic] arm moved where I wanted it to go.”

 

Helping Bodies Heal Themselves

Many elderly and seriously ill patients can develop chronic wounds which resist healing for months, or even years, during which time patients are plagued by incessant pain.

A new Israeli invention, currently undergoing trials, helps the body heal itself of this serious medical condition.

CureXCell” was invented by Dr. David Danon of the Israeli national blood service, and is being commercially developed by the Petach Tikvah-based company MacroCure. The medicine uses white blood cells, which are usually discarded from donated blood, and introduces them into the vicinity of chronic wounds, which helps stimulate healing. Finally, patients with chronic wounds have a chance of recovering from this debilitating condition.

Letting Diabetic Kids be Kids

Diabetic children have experienced remarkable new freedoms at an experimental summer camp in Israel. At the Schneider Children’s Medical Center in Petach Tikva, researchers from around the world collaborated under the leadership of Israeli researcher Dr. Moshe Phillip on the world’s first trial of an artificial pancreas.

The children in the study swam, played sports, and enjoyed summer camp unencumbered by insulin injections and glucose monitoring. Insulin levels were monitored by staff remotely, and the children’s insulin was delivered through insulin pumps. For the duration of the camp, at least, participants were able to forget they had diabetes while experiencing superior levels of insulin control at the same time.

Artifical pancreas could revolutionize diabetic care

In people with diabetes, the pancreas doesn’t produce or release insulin as it should, so the body can’t metabolize sugars properly. That means blood sugar levels have to be monitored continuously, especially at night, when diabetics’ blood sugar can get dangerously out of control. But nighttime monitoring and dosing is a sleep-stealing activity, particularly for parents of diabetic children.

A new artificial pancreas developed in Israel may allow them sweeter dreams. The MD-Logic was recently tested on Israeli children at an overnight diabetes summer camp, with resounding success.

Using existing insulin pump technology, MD-Logic closes the loop between a continuous glucose monitor and insulin pump, allowing patients to self-regulate their glucose levels and deliver the exact amount of insulin needed, when needed – even at 3 o’clock in the morning.

Developed by Atlas along with Prof. Moshe Phillip, Dr. Revital Nimri, and Shahar Miller at Schneider Children’s Medical Center in Israel, the artificial pancreas was tested on 18 Israeli kids between the ages of 12 and 15. It was also tested on groups of children in Slovenia and in Germany. MD-Logic is the first system of its kind to be tried outside the hospital and it may be the first to offer relief and freedom to diabetics.

The medical device is still in the prototype stage, so for now it requires connection to a laptop computer that can be carried in a backpack or set beside the bed.

“Seeing” with Sound

Israeli researcher Dr. Amir Amediof the Hebrew University of Jerusalem has developed a way to let blind people “see” using sound. This non-invasive invention consists of a computer mounted on glasses, connected to stereo speakers. The speakers interpret visual data into sound cues. After brief training sessions, users learn to use these sophisticated sound cues to navigate.

Remarkably, magnetic resonance imaging scans show that the brain waves of people wearing this invention closely mimic those of people who are actually seeing. Dr. Amedi’s glasses enable blind people to sense the location of objects, and even to read words.

This research follows Dr. Amedi’s previous breakthrough: his invention of a high-tech replacement of the traditional seeing-eye cane. Dubbed the “yes-eye-cane,” this cellphone-sized device uses sonar to estimate the distance of objects. The cane can tell users how big and how far away objects are, and can even tell the difference between a frowning face and a smiling one. It functions at distances traditional canes can’t, both very far away and extremely close, and can retain a charge for 12 hours. Researchers who worked on this revolutionary new aide reported being able to navigate mazes with it after a short training period.

Smelling Success

Scientists at Israel’s celebrated Weitzman Institutehave built sensors that allow paralyzed people to operate wheelchairs and communicate using only their sense of smell.

The sense of smell doesn’t depend on nerves routed through the spinal cord, and thus is usually unaffected even in cases of severe trauma resulting in paralysis.

Israeli researchers Noam Sobel and Anton Plotkin realized they could measure minute changes in pressure inside patients’ noses as they smelled different scents, and translate this into an electric charge. This has allowed people who are totally paralyzed to move wheelchairs, write computer code, and even play video games.

They successfully tested their groundbreaking invention in the Levinstein Rehabilitation Hospital in Ranana. One patient, who had been paralyzed for 10 years, was able to communicate for the first time since her stroke-induced paralysis, and write e-mails to her grandchildren, using this technology.

Feeling Artificial Fingers

Prosthetic limbs have been around since ancient times, but Israeli scientists have recently found a way to connect a prosthetic hand to a patient’s brain, allowing not only movement, but also sensation.

Dr. Yosi Shacham-Diamand of Tel Aviv University led a team of scientists that figured out a way to attach sensors from an artificial hand to a patient’s nerves.

Robin af Ekenstam, a young Swedish musician who had lost his right hand to cancer, was the first to be fitted with this special artificial hand. After using it for several months, Mr. Ekenstam told Swedish TV that it felt like a real hand: “When I grab something hard, then I can feel it in the fingertips, which is strange, as I don’t have them anymore. It’s fantastic.”

The SmartHand – Dr. Yosi Shacham-Diamand of Tel Aviv University led a team of scientists that have developed a prosthetic hand which functions like a real one. Amputees can use it to write, type on a keyboard, play piano and perform other fine movements. Another amazing advantage is that the prosthesis has sensors which enable real feeling in its fingertips.

The scientists are planning to create prosthetic legs of the same kind. The futuristic prosthesis, called SmartHand, is expected to change the lives of many handicapped people, whose hands or legs were amputated as a result of accidents, wars, or diseases.The revolutionary prosthesis took years to develop, and its production is said to cost tens of millions of euros. Its developers are scientists from Israel, Ireland, Italy, Iceland, and Denmark.

So how exactly does this unbelievable wonder work?

The prosthesis is comprised of four electric motors and 40 sensors. After the organ was amputated, the scientists attached the prosthesis, using a very thin electronic thread, to nerves located above the amputated limb. This way, the prosthesis is connected to the amputee’s brain.

From this point it all becomes pretty simple. When the prosthesis owner wants to type on a keyboard, for example, his brain sends a command to an interface inside the prosthesis.

From there, the translated command is transferred to the sensors in the prosthesis, and its owner can then perform fine movements like playing a musical instrument, drinking, eating, and buttoning clothes. Such activities are nearly impossible for people with a normal prosthesis.

Yvette Alt Miller Ph.D lives in the Chicago area. She is author of Angels at the Table: A Practical Guide to Celebrating Shabbat.