Rehabilitation through robotics
Cutting-edge system tracks patients' progress
By Erin Bluvas, firstname.lastname@example.org
When a person suffers a stroke — or any injury that affects his or her sensory, motor
and cognitive functions — how much movement and function can be recovered? And how
can researchers help victims recover more of what they’ve lost?
That’s a question Troy Herter is seeking to answer with robotics. Herter, a clinical assistant professor in the Arnold School of Public Health, has a distinctive background that includes neurophysiology, rehabilitation, psychology, engineering and biomechanics. Using a robotic system that assesses arm and eye movements in his Sensory Motor Assessment and Robotic Technology (SMART) Lab, he’s bringing all of those fields together to study how humans rehabilitate.
“There are so many variables as to why we might struggle with daily tasks, but the research we do here is helping us better understand how these abilities are affected by stroke, the aging process, exercise and many other factors,” Herter says.
Custom built for the cutting-edge research conducted at the Arnold School, the SMART Lab’s KINARM Robotic System is the envy of scientists across fields. Patients grasp the machine’s handles and move their arms to perform tasks while looking into a transparent screen where the tasks are projected into a virtual environment. Meanwhile, an eye tracker measures eye movements within the realistic horizontal plane — a significant advantage over the vertical perspective offered by most eye trackers.
The lab also helps scientists learn more about how individuals self-correct during activities to determine where and how these challenges arise.
“Does the answer lie within the arm movement? The brain? Eye movement?” asks Herter. “Usually it’s a combination of these factors, and that is what is so special about this research; we can look at all of these areas simultaneously through a single platform.”
Herter’s first foray into the world of robotics involved studying the neural mechanisms of sensory and motor function in monkeys while he was a postdoctoral fellow at Queen’s University in Canada. For several years, he was also the division head and graduate director for rehabilitation sciences in the Department of Exercise Science — one of three specialty areas for students in the exercise science graduate programs. As doctoral students in the country’s No. 1 Ph.D. program in the fields of exercise science and kinesiology, graduate research assistants have the opportunity to participate in groundbreaking research using innovative technology.
There are so many variables as to why we might struggle with daily tasks, but the research we do here is helping us better understand how these abilities are affected by stroke, the aging process, exercise and many other factors.
Troy Herter, public health professor
The overarching goal for SMART Lab studies is to use the lab’s robotics system to uncover patterns in how people rehabilitate. Researchers can then translate these findings into practical applications that affect health on a broader scale, such as developing assessments and treatments that can be used by clinicians to diagnose and treat patients.
“While this type of equipment is extremely rare at the moment, we hope that more and more data like this will be collected over the next 10 years,” says Herter. “The goal is to perform assessments as quickly as possible after a stroke, concussion or other type of injury so that we can intervene earlier and use better assessment and prognosis tools to improve rehabilitation and health outcomes for patients.”
Share this Story! Let friends in your social network know what you are reading about