In August, Component Supply attended the FIME show in Miami, Fla., where we were able to see a demonstration of the KineAssist-MX. This month, we had the opportunity to speak with one of the collaborators in its development and hear his insights on multidisciplinary research.
When it comes to research, University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) Professor David Brown finds the multidisciplinary, collaborative approach both rewarding and effective.
“There’s some risk involved when someone who is an expert in their field crosses over into another field, but the shared expertise is invaluable,” Brown said.
One of the greatest examples of his multidisciplinary approach is the development of the KineAssist-MX, a device providing unobtrusive support to patients relearning how to balance and walk, particularly after a stroke.
The collaboration on this project started back in 2002 when Brown and two mechanical engineers at Northwestern University, Ed Colgate, Ph.D. and Michael Peshkin, Ph.D., worked on a research proposal for funding that would be given for developing technology considered too risky for investors.
After visiting high-profile clinics in Chicago, observing their practices and trying to determine what technology was needed most, Brown discovered the clinicians preferred co-robotics. They wanted mechanisms that not only move based on the intent of the patient but also the intent of the clinician.
Brown said co-robotics is particularly effective for people recovering from stroke who are basically learning how to walk again.
“The brain learns best when challenged to do tasks slightly higher than ability level,” Brown said.
With the KineAssist-MX, patients can work with physical therapists to challenge themselves in a safe environment.
Unlike typical treadmills, which move at a constant speed, the KineAssist picks up on patients’ intentions, errors and the expected consequences while allowing opportunities to practice movement and retry.
The device not only moves based on the intended movement of the user, it also simulates various environmental factors through variable speeds, disturbed surfaces and force fields.
“It’s a multi-purpose playground where people can try different real-life situations, make mistakes and get right back up and keep trying,” Brown said.
Along with Brown’s work with this device, his continued work in The UAB Locomotor Control and Rehabilitation Robotics Laboratory, better known as the LocoLab, is based on collaboration with scientists and clinicians.
“Our work is very multidisciplinary,” he said.
In Brown’s lab, there are more than 10 students from different backgrounds: Ph.D. candidates, occupational therapy and physical therapy graduate students, an engineering student and even high school students. The variation of backgrounds and ages is beneficial in collaborative work and Brown said he finds joy in inspiring the youngest students.
“We want the high school students to connect and find the aspects of their projects that really excite them,” Brown said. “We want them to come away passionate and more mature in their thinking.”
Brown and his students focus on three aspects of study: basic mechanistic studies, effective exercise-based interventions and development of new technology. They are studying how the brain controls movement, particularly after a stroke, developing clinical interventions and applying the interventions with new technology in a way that gives patients the opportunity to practice movements in a safe environment.
For more information about Brown and his research in the LocoLab at UAB, visit: https://www.uab.edu/shp/pt/locolab/locolab-kineassist.