Life & Culture

Israeli invention the ReWalk suit helps people to walk again

Israel's life-changers at the Technion Institute of Technology, make great strides


Last year, 36-year-old Claire Lomas walked the Great North Run; the largest half-marathon in the world. Yet in 2007, she had been paralysed from the chest down in a riding accident. She completed the half-marathon in a ReWalk suit, invented in Israel. Although it took her five days to complete the run, she had never even expected to walk again. “It felt surreal,” says Lomas. “When I was walking the last bit it was really hard not to start crying.”

ReWalk was invented by Dr Amit Goffer of Israel’s Technion Institute of Technology. It is a “bionic” suit, using motion sensors to help paralysed patients stand upright and even walk again.

Goffer was inspired to invent ReWalk after an accident left him in a wheelchair. However, due to limited function in his arms, he was unable to use his own invention, so he created UPnRIDE Robotics.

UPnRIDE is a self-stabilising chair that goes from sitting to standing with the push of a button and can handle rough terrains and inclines.

“I was able to stand with my colleagues and drink coffee,” says Goffer. “Being able to stand again was an experience out of this world — the psychological effect is dramatic.”

It is no coincidence that there are more than 250 major R&D centres in Israel, owned by multinational companies including Apple, General Electric, Johnson & Johnson and Google. Known worldwide as the start-up nation because of its technological innovations, Israel is also a leader in medical innovation.

Students from abroad can join the Technion’s American medical programme, giving them the opportunity to learn in a cutting-edge environment. And, with the opening of the Technion-Cornell Innovation Institute in New York, Israeli innovations will make an even bigger impact around the world.

Allen Pimienta, a Technion graduate from Toronto, has published papers in four different journals and is the first author on two. “I can’t get this research opportunity anywhere else,” says Pimienta. “Not only do renowned researchers teach our classes but they also give us their cellphone information and say, ‘Please contact us with any questions’.”

Another Israeli-American partnership that has already seen promising results is a study conducted by Technion and Harvard University. Through a time-lapse video, they have captured the way bacteria mutate to overcome drugs meant destroy them. This is the first time antibiotic resistance has been documented in such a clear way and will have enormous ramifications on understanding antibiotics and bacteria.

Other Israeli innovations having enormous impact include two designed to detect cancer at an earlier, more survivable stage.

Unlike other types of cancer, cervical cancer is relatively easy to identify and treat but it is responsible for the deaths of more than 270,000 women annually and is a leading cause of death in developing nations.

Thanks to routine smear tests, cervical cancer rates have been drastically reduced in the western world but there is not the infrastructure for such screening in most developing countries, especially in rural areas.

Ariel Beery, CEO and co-founder of Tel Aviv-based start-up MobileODT, set out to increase life expectancy in developing countries.

“There’s no reason a woman should die of cervical cancer just because she’s not screened on time,” says Beery.

MobileODT develops and sells relatively small and cheap colposcopes, especially for countries without a strong healthcare infrastructure. The company has integrated the colposcopes with smartphones, which are readily available everywhere in the world and have built-in imaging technology. Co-founder David Levitz helped design the mobile colposcope. “With a smartphone, you’re getting a much better camera with much better specifications than you are on this expensive medical device,” says Levitz. “It seems counter-intuitive but there’s just so much more innovation happening on the phone side that the phone cameras are just better and going to get much better.”

Another Israeli device saving lives through early cancer detection is NaNose. NaNose was created when Technion’s Professor Hossam Haick set out to non-invasively discover traces of cancer in the human body. A cancerous growth releases distinctive volatile organic compounds. These travel in the bloodstream and, when they reach the lungs, are emitted in breath. The number of molecules is extremely small and detecting them is like trying to find a four-leaf clover in a field of three-leaf ones.

When the compounds leave the mouth with the exhaled breath, NaNose can identify them and detect the cancer. In four out of five cases, the device differentiates between benign and malignant lung lesions and even cancer subtypes. It is now being customised to detect other diseases, to ensure early detection and help save lives.

Keep an eye on the Middle East for the next innovation that will change your life — and may even save it.

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