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Dublin: 6 °C Thursday 13 December, 2018
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A year in robotic legs: paralysed adventurer hits new milestone

Mark Pollock has spent a year gathering data on how robotic exoskeleton is working on his body – and he hopes scientists might get on board for formal study.

Mark Pollock when he tried out his robotic legs for the first time last year.
Mark Pollock when he tried out his robotic legs for the first time last year.
Image: MarkPollock via Youtube.com

ADVENTURER MARK POLLOCK has made a call for medical researchers to consider carrying out a study on the physical benefits and effects of cutting-edge bionic technology on paralysed people.

Pollock has just marked one year of using a set of exoskeletal robotic ‘legs’. Having gone blind at the age of 22, Pollock was hit with a second massive physical, mental and emotional challenge in July 2010 when a tragic fall left him paralysed from the waist down.

After a long period in rehabilitation, he began to explore the current – and potential – avenues of spinal cord injury recovery. One of these has been research and engagement with aggressive physical therapy. His hope that his discoveries and personal experience will contribute to the knowledge base of how spinal cord injuries may be treated in the future.

One avenue he has explored is the use of robotic legs, through a company called ekso bionics, and the machine captures data each time he uses them. That data gets sent back to the company’s lab in San Francisco and a physio meets up with Pollock every month to carry out tests.

Writing in his blog this week, Pollock wrote:

This time last year I took my first few faltering steps in a revolutionary new set of robotic legs from ekso bionics.

wrote a blog the day after that first experience and said: “I was scared. Not of the walking or chances of falling. Rather I was scared that my blindness would stop me from being part of something that I believe is one of my best chances of walking again.”

Twleve months on, the blindness and paralysis remain but the fear has gone. Today, I completed 2196 steps in 60 minutes. And the encouraging thing is that I’m disappointed that I didn’t make it to 2,200 steps. I’m not scared anymore, just keen to continue exploring the boundaries of what is possible.

My South Pole team-mate, Simon, is now my lead trainer and we are setting and beating our goals. I’m walking faster and further in less and less time. It feels easier and I hope it looks more like normal walking.

You be the judge – here’s the most recent video of me walking.

Speaking to TheJournal.ie this weekend, Pollock said that he was delighted with his progress in using the robotic legs. “My aim is to work with eksobionics to capture the data and then move it on to a more formal study to get some scientific analysis of what the benefits are to spinal patients.”

He added that while there is a European study about to kick off on the use of exoskeletons, it is focused on the safety of using such devices. Pollock said that it is an opportune time for a PhD student or other researcher to launch a study into the physical benefits and effects of regular use of a device such as his robotic legs. Hospitals and other medical institutions need to see study results before they can consider – on financial and ethical reasons – to introduce robotic exoskeletons into treatment programmes.

“By the time that they can get to the point where they can recommend how a patient should be using these to see a benefit, it could be 20 years on, so the research needs to begin now,” said Pollock.

In his blog, he noted the impact the device has made on his own body so far:

All of this is designed to improve the system and understand the impact that walking has on the body and mind of a paralysed person. From a personal perspective I’ve noticed two big positives with ekso. I just feel better every time i walk and that psychological lift is positive in itself. Physically there is a clear impact. After each session the small spasms that I get in my legs disappear and the dull pain in my back lifts.

In short, I feel both mentally and physically better after walking every time. I now need a few scientists to tell me what is happening inside my body. Anyone interested?!

Academics and researchers wishing to contact Mark on this issue should email mark@markpollock.com

And just to remind us how far he has come, here he is taking his very first steps on the robotic legs last year:


This was Mark this week in the Sports Centre in Trinity College Dublin taking the most steps he has ever taken with the legs:

Videos via Mark Pollock/Youtube

Read: Irish adventurer Mark Pollock hopes to defy ‘conventional wisdom’ and walk again>

Video: How does it feel to carry the Olympic torch?>

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