Belfast Telegraph

Paralysed Mark Pollock's incredible robotic skeleton first steps hailed as a medical marvel

By Claire Williamson

Mark Pollock is working towards making the seemingly impossible, possible.

Mark is at the centre of a pioneering study in a bid to fast-track a cure for paralysis after a fall in 2010 left him paralysed from the waist down - just weeks before his wedding.

The 39-year-old has spent most of his adult life overcoming adversity after going blind at the age of 22.

It was at a programme in America last year at UCLA where the Co Down man made the incredible breakthrough - and now the results have been published.

Mark was the first person to combine two methods - a robotic device designed to enhance mobility as well as being aided by a non-invasive spinal stimulation technique that does not require surgery.

Scientists published their findings showing that Mark was voluntarily assisting the robotic legs - and that they weren't doing all the work.

It states that Mark was "actively flexing his left knee and raises his left leg and that during and after the electrical stimulation, he was able to voluntarily assist the robot during stepping".

The breakthrough has made Mark the "first person with chronic, complete paralysis to regain enough voluntary control to move with a robotic exoskeleton".

The amazing achievement was made after five days of training, and was helped by the novel electrical spinal stimulation technique directed at the spinal cord.

Scientists in UCLA have recorded that Mark was able to "voluntarily control his leg muscles" and take thousands of steps in a "robotic exoskeleton" device during five days of training - and for two weeks afterward.

It is this work that Mark has brought back to Dublin and will be continuing over the next 12 months. The programme used a robotic device which captures data to determine how much the subject is moving his own limbs, as opposed to being aided by the device.

UCLA professor V Reggie Edgerton said: "If the robot does all the work, the subject becomes passive and the nervous system shuts down."

The report found that at UCLA Mark made substantial progress after receiving just a few weeks of physical training without spinal stimulation and then just five days of spinal stimulation training in a one-week span, for about an hour a day.

Mark said: "In the last few weeks of the trial, my heart rate hit 138 beats per minute. This is an aerobic training zone, a rate I haven't even come close to since being paralysed while walking in the robot alone, without these interventions.

"That was a very exciting, emotional moment for me, having spent my whole adult life before breaking my back as an athlete. Stepping with the stimulation and having my heart rate increase, along with the awareness of my legs under me, was addictive. I wanted more."

He told the Belfast Telegraph: "It's the first time it's ever been done in the world.

"So that was a great experience but when you experience something small that looks promising, like so much in science, you want to do more.

"What's really important is that what I feel is captured in a scientific way so that we can move it forward.

"It's no good if it's done in isolation, it has to be part of a scientific study, captured, published and fed into the next stage."

Belfast Telegraph


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