January 3, 2023
Stepping Into the Future
Robotics Research Helping Kids Like Rowan
Last fall, eight-year-old Rowan walked with the help of robotic legs and loved every minute of it. Rowan has cerebral palsy, lacks control of his muscles and has used a wheelchair his whole life. At least, that was his reality until last September, when he was able to try new Canadian-made technology called Trexo, the focus of donor-funded clinical research at the Alberta Children’s Hospital.
The Trexo gait trainer is a wearable robotic device that helps children with disabilities and motor impairments experience walking. It works by supporting a child within an adjustable frame while gently moving their legs in a preset custom gait pattern.
“Rowan was thrilled to be moving on his own,” says his mother, Erin Hannigan. “He immediately became more social, talking a mile a minute and wanting to show and tell everyone that he could walk.”
“We are excited to study the impact of robotic assisted walking on children’s health and wellness, including how it affects balance, muscle spasticity, sleep, and other consequences of physical inactivity,” says Dr. Elizabeth Condliffe, a neuroscientist with the Alberta Children’s Hospital Research Institute and Hotchkiss Brain Institute at the University of Calgary.
She and her team are working with dozens of young people at the Alberta Children’s Hospital to examine how using Trexo affects rehabilitation, might help them overcome physical and social barriers, and potentially prevents the onset of chronic medical conditions. Ultimately, her hope is to conduct a multi-centre trial so as many children as possible could benefit from this innovative approach to care.
“They say sitting eight hours a day is bad for your health. Imagine how bad it is for a child spending their entire life in a wheelchair,” says Manmeet Maggu, co-founder of Trexo Robotics. He and his partner were inspired to develop the technology to help children like Maggu’s nephew, who was born with cerebral palsy. Their company received support from the UCeed Child Health and Wellness Fund, a first-in-Canada early-stage investment program made possible by community generosity through the Alberta Children’s Hospital Foundation.
“The feeling of independence was a big confidence booster for Rowan and the workout helped with his eating, digestion and post-surgery rehab,” says Hannigan. “We are so grateful Rowan is part of this Trexo research. Now that he’s had this experience, it makes us hopeful and curious for what other technology advancements will help him in the future.”
UCeed is a University of Calgary initiative that leverages philanthropic support to seed fund, train, mentor and support locally and nationally based startup companies. In partnership with the Alberta Children’s Hospital Foundation, the UCeed Child Health and Wellness Fund was created to get research discoveries that improve children’s health into the marketplace faster, create jobs, and fuel the economy.
“UCeed’s network and expertise in the commercialization of medical devices have helped us navigate the complex challenges that come with any healthcare startup,” says Trexo Robotics co-founder Manmeet Maggu. “We are very fortunate to have UCeed partner with us.”
Being involved with the UCeed program is allowing Trexo Robotics to scale production and reach more families of children with disabilities who wish to walk. UCeed is part of an innovation ecosystem that includes partners like Innovate Calgary, the Hunter Hub for Entrepreneurial Thinking, Life Sciences Innovation Hub, and Creative Destruction Lab – Rockies. In just four years, Calgary has nearly tripled its number of healthcare startups. The UCeed Child Health initiative is fueling that growth. Since launching in 2020, it has invested in nine companies which, in turn, have already secured more than $17M in follow-on investment. Learn more.