Our research focuses on integration of neural interfacing and rehabilitation robotics to improve understanding of human motor control and to develop new therapeutic tools and interventions for treatment of movement disorders and paralysis. Primary focus areas include: 1) combining neuroimaging, including electroencephalography (EEG) and functional near-infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS) with motion capture and electromyography (EMG) data collection systems to monitor brain-body dynamics during movement, 2) development and application of assistive devices and technology to improve motor function in individuals with central nervous injuries, with specific focus on actuated devices (robotics and exoskeletons) and functional electrical stimulation (FES), and 3) development and evaluation of novel rehabilitation therapies, including human-machine interaction and integration of virtual reality to enhance motor learning and functional recovery. Several active projects are described below.
Studies Actively Recruiting
We have developed an active treadmill that automatically adjusts to the user's walking speed in real time, thereby providing a more engaging experience than typical treadmill passive treadmill training. Using electroencephalography (EEG) we compared cortical activity from healthy individuals during a speed tracking task using the active and passive treadmills. The results showed increased activity during the active treadmill task, not only in the motor cortex but also in the prefrontal and posterior parietal areas, indicating that the active treadmill more fully engaged the user in the task. We therefore hypothesize that inclusion of active control in gait training can expedite motor recovery. We plan to evaluate this hypothesis in a randomized controlled trial of children with cerebral palsy. We are also continuing development of more interactive active treadmill training paradigms, including integration of virtual reality.
In this project, we are investigating the first lower extremity powered exoskeleton design specifically to treat children with crouch gait from cerebral palsy. Our adaptable exoskeleton was designed to evaluate powered assistance as a rehabilitation strategy for crouch. Additionally, we are studying basic science questions related to neuromuscular gait disorders and human-machine interactions. In a clinical study currently underway, we are investigating the optimal configurations and motor control strategies of our exoskeleton to assist children with CP who exhibit crouch gait, and are researching how applying powered assistance to the knee joint at different phases of the gait cycle affects joint mechanics, muscle activity, and spatiotemporal parameters. The study will compare the powered exoskeleton with traditional orthotics and functional electrical stimulation (FES). We are also combining our exoskeleton with electroencephalography (EEG) to study the ways powered assistance may affect cortical activity.
A prevailing question in human motor control is how the nervous system is able to efficiently and effectively harness the bodies many degrees of freedom to achieve a wide variety of complex movements, such as walking. One theory is that rather than control individual muscles the nervous system is able to recruit groups of muscles, termed muscle synergies or modules, to simplify the control problem and create functional building blocks to create complex movements. The objective of this project is utilize noninvasive electroencephalography (EEG) in combination with motion capture and electromyography (EMG) to identify correlations between synergies extracted from peripheral muscles with cortical sources measured by EEG.