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NASA Technology Comes to Rescue of Injured U.S. Troops
NASA developed technology was the basis for SAM, a wheeled walker that supports a patient ’s upper body weight and pelvis, and mimics hip joint movement.Some of Uncle Sam's injured soldiers returning from duty abroad are benefiting from patented NASA technology transformed into a revolutionary new physical therapy device by the same name -- SAM – the Secure Ambulation Mode walker. The walker's technology, originally developed at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., was used to enhance robotics and sounding rockets and is now aiding U.S. service personnel with spinal cord or traumatic brain injuries at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C.

The late James Kerley created and patented the technology, consisting of short segments of flexible cable that connect to hardware, all of which allows joint-like, multidirectional movement and shock absorption. Allen Crane and Wayne Eklund teamed with Kerley in the 1990s to incorporate this "cable-compliant" system into a patented walker that supported the pelvis and imitated hip joint movement, which ultimately alleviated pain to injured patients by reducing the amount of weight placed on the legs.

Image right:NASA-developed technology was the basis for SAM, a wheeled walker that supports a patient ’s upper body weight and pelvis, and mimics hip joint movement. Credit: NASA

In 2003, Enduro Medical Technologies, East Hartford, Conn., licensed these patented NASA technologies and modified the cable-compliant system into an advanced walker with a flexible harness that embraces the lower torso.

“We felt SAM would be an ideal fit for Walter Reed because it makes the rehabilitation process less taxing on both the patient and the medical staff,” said Enduro’s president Ken Messier. According to Messier, SAM allows patients to stand or walk bearing various amounts of their own weight whether they have a sense of balance or not. “It allows them to stand without having three or four therapists helping them,” explained Messier. “So it gets the patient up sooner in the rehabilitation process without a fear of falling and without injuries to the patient or staff.”

According to Messier, one active military patient at Walter Reed who was wheelchair-bound for two years due to a spinal cord injury is now up and walking with SAM. “When we first put him in the walker, he was up and going for 25 minutes,” explained Messier. “He’s now walking for up to 25 minutes every day and even using SAM to perform exercises to strengthen his leg muscles.”

The SAM walker, born by way of NASA's technology transfer program, also gives patients with degenerative conditions like severe arthritis, multiple sclerosis, Lou Gehrig's Disease, cerebral palsy, and Parkinson's Disease an opportunity to safely extend their mobility.

The SAM walker at Walter Reed was donated by The Henry M. Jackson Foundation for the Advancement of Military Medicine.

"It's very important to NASA to facilitate licensing of our technologies when possible for the benefit of the broader community," said Nona Minnifield Cheeks, chief of Goddard’s Office of Technology Transfer in Greenbelt, Md. "Our research and technology can and does often have useful applications beyond space-based exploration. We enjoy knowing that as a byproduct of our work, we directly help people right here on Earth to improve their quality of life."

For more information about NASA's Office of Technology Transfer on the Web, visit the Goddard Tech Transfer Office.

Gretchen Cook-Anderson
NASA Goddard Space Flight Center