A Queen's neuroscientist's invention to help understand the role of the brain in arm and leg movement will dramatically improve the assessment and rehabilitation of stroke and spinal cord victims. It will also help lay the groundwork for development of neural prostheses that can re-activate paralyzed limbs. Dr. Stephen Scott's unique mathematical model, combined with his new experimental device, KINARM (Kinesiological Instrument for Normal and Altered Reaching Movement), enables researchers for the first time to objectively quantify and manipulate the mechanics of limb movement in multi-joint motor tasks. This device has already generated several new observations on how the brain coordinates limb movements.
In a pilot project to begin this fall at St. Mary's by the Lake Hospital, the device will be used to quantify motor function of stroke patients. Motor patterns will be examined first for a number of simple tasks while subjects maintain fixed arm postures, then for more sophisticated tasks where they learn to make reaching movements while the robot applies complex novel loads to assess their ability to learn new motor skills. The long-term goal is to identify which tasks patients can and cannot perform, and to create "fingerprints" to aid in the diagnosis and classification of motor dysfunctions, as well as to guide future directions for therapy.
"We needed a different experimental paradigm to understand how neurons in the brain are involved in controlling movement," says Dr. Scott. "Once you've built the technology, the rest becomes much easier." That's why he spent two years creating the recently-patented robotic device, KINARM, which provides quantitative, objective data required to assess performance and identify dysfunctions.
To be used at Western, University of ChicagoThe team has also installed a KINARM system at the University of Western Ontario, and is currently developing one for the University of Chicago. "We hope to give other researchers an opportunity to use this technology in answering questions about limb movement that couldn't be posed before," says Dr. Scott.
Patented in 2000 through Queen's technology transfer office, PARTEQ Innovations, KINARM has hinge joints aligned with a person's shoulder and elbow allowing horizontal arm movements, and a computer projection system that provides virtual targets in the plane of the arm. Each joint can be manipulated independently, with different loads added selectively. This allows the device to independently manipulate the mechanics of the shoulder and elbow joints during multi-joint tasks.
"Now that we're learning how the brain organizes information related to movement and motor control, we can take that information into the clinic and start to look at different patient populations to develop diagnostic tools and provide quantitative information on what the specific deficits are," says Dr. Scott. "That helps to both identify sub-groups of different diseases or deficits, and to guide rehabilitation."
Funding for KINARM has come from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR), the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC) and Queen's University start-up funds. Most recently, a grant from the Ontario Research and Development Challenge Fund (ORDCF) will allow commercialization of the device.
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