Denver hospital, Vanderbilt exoskeleton clinical trial discussed at leadership exchange

Michael Goldfarb addresses Denver Metro Chamber Leadership Foundation exchange participants on Thursday. (Heidi Hall/Vanderbilt)

Some of Denver’s top executives learned Thursday how collaboration across Vanderbilt University schools and departments leads to world-changing technology.

But they also found out about a collaboration closer to their home – a clinical trial at Denver’s renowned Craig Hospital involving its spinal cord rehabilitation patients and Vanderbilt researcher Michael Goldfarb’s robotic lower-limb exoskeleton.

Mike Fordyce, president and CEO of Craig Hospital, which exclusively specializes in research and rehabilitation for spinal cord and traumatic brain injuries, said patients have been using the lower-limb exoskeleton for four weeks. He was amazed to watch a man enter the hospital’s gym in a wheelchair, unpack the 26-pound exoskeleton, put it on, and stand.

Mike Fordyce

“Think about someone with paralysis who spends their days looking up at people talking, and think about the psychological advantages of being able to actually stand and walk,” Fordyce told the group.

About 160 participants in the Denver Metro Chamber Leadership Foundation’s exchange program are visiting Nashville today and tomorrow, and 55 of them visited Vanderbilt to hear from Goldfarb, holder of the H. Fort Flowers Chair in Mechanical Engineering. He was named by Popular Mechanics as one of the 10 Innovators Who Changed the World in 2013 for his work on robotic prosthetics.

The exoskeleton, which also allows its users to climb stairs, could be on the market by the end of next year, Goldfarb said. He said tech transfer and commercialization are important to his Vanderbilt-based Center for Intelligent Mechatronics.

“The intent of everything we work on is to improve the quality of life,” Goldfarb said. “It’s much harder to improve the quality of life if your work only ends up on the pages of a journal.”

Visitors also got an inside look at two other center projects: robotic arms and legs. Videos of test subjects showed the arm’s dexterity, which is approaching normal limb range, and the leg’s ability to speed up to a run and slow down to a stroll.

Before Goldfarb took the podium, School of Engineering Dean Philippe Fauchet outlined his school’s structure, funding, and collaborations with industry. School of Medicine Dean Jeff Balser, who is also vice chancellor for Health Affairs, discussed Vanderbilt’s operation as an integrated university and the benefits that spring from collaboration.

Leadership exchange participants will tour the School of Engineering’s Laboratory for Systems Integrity & Reliability on Friday.


Heidi Hall, (615) 322-6614
On Twitter @VUEngineering