Posted on September 29, 2017 by staff

Will technology cure paralysis?


An adventurer who became the first blind man to reach the South Pole is hoping technology can help play a part in finding a cure for paralysis.

Mark Pollock was left paralysed from the waist down after he broke his spine in a fall from a two-storey window in 2010 and became the first blind man to own his pair of robotic legs.

The 41-year-old is on a mission to find a fast track cure for paralysis and shared his amazing story with an audience of around 80 business people at Deloitte’s office in Manchester this week.

Pollock, who also won two medals for rowing in the 2002 Commonwealth Games,  hopes his story will inspire people to take part in the annual global fundraising Run in the Dark event, which attracts over 25,000 entrants worldwide.

He said he is excited by the prospect of robotic legs becoming more accessible and affordable thanks to 3D printing and other alternative manufacturing methods.

Pollock lost the sight of his right eye at the age of five and became completely blind in April 1998 at the age of 22 after his left retina became detached.

He marked the 10th anniversary of losing his sight by becoming the first blind person to participate in an expedition race to the South Pole but then tragedy struck in July 2010.

Just a month before he was due to marry his then fiancé Simone George, Pollock fell from a window and was left paralysed.

By talking about his experiences he’s helped people in over 500 organisations worldwide, including at Davos, the Web Summit and the World Economic Forum.

Pollock has since been exploring the frontiers of spinal cord injury recovery through robotic technology and aggressive physical therapy and is on a mission to fast-track a cure for paralysis through the Mark Pollock Trust, which is hoping to raise €500,000 by the end of this year and €5m by 2020.

This endeavour has largely been funded through annual global fundraising event Run in the Dark.

To assist with day-to-day life, Pollock relies heavily on accessible and text to speech technology on his smartphone and computer.

“Technology has been an enabler for me both in the aftermath of blindness and now in the aftermath of paralysis,” he said.

“I haven’t been without my phone since the South Pole race. I knew my phone was important but I just didn’t realise how important.

“I use it for entertainment, to access the internet and information, to check my emails or just to ask what the weather is going to be like because I can’t look out the window.”

Pollock owns a first-generation set of robotic legs, which are only used indoors for rehabilitation purposes.

“From a technological perspective, the combination of robotic legs and electrical stimulation is particularly exciting – not as an alternative to wheelchairs but rather for rehabilitation as a way of trying to move closer to a cure,” he said.

But while robotic legs and electrical devices are being developed, the costs can be staggering.

“You can imagine that 3D printing or other alternative manufacturing methods will start to reduce the costs and make them more accessible and affordable, and that really excites me.”