Student Projects

Restoring Reaching to People with High Spinal Cord Injury

Faculty Mentor Eric Schearer

Schearer lab

Summary. Functional-electrical-stimulation neuroprostheses are promising means for restoring arm and hand functions to people with paralyzed arms. The objective of this project is to coordinate electrical stimulation of multiple muscles to evoke reaching movements in people with spinal cord injuries. The central hypothesis is that person-specific models of muscles’ responses to electrical stimulation can be learned and used to coordinate muscles to evoke reaching movements.

REU Student Involvement. The student(s) will do one of the following projects:

  1. Design and testing of a robotic human arm emulator.  In this project a student will program software to send information from a computer simulation of a human arm to a robot, design a robot control strategy to mimic the simulated human arm, and evaluate the system to ensure matching between the human arm simulation and the robot.  
  2. Design and testing of an eye-tracking interface for control of robot and human arm movements.  This project involves understanding how human eye and hand movements are coordinated and in turn how we can leverage this knowledge to efficiently control robots with human eye tracking. 
  3. Optimization of motion capture techniques for people with spinal cord injuries.  Students will design and improve techniques for placement of motion capture markers on human participants, alighment of markers with bony landmarks, and algorithms for computing shoulder and elbow joint angles from motion capture data.

Health Care and Patient Experience. Students will observe experiments with people with high spinal cord injuries at MetroHealth Old Brooklyn Health Center where Dr. Schearer regularly conducts human subjects experiments as a member of the Bioscientific Staff.

Balance Training with Gaming

Faculty Mentors Ann Reinthal and Debbie Espy

MDHBT 20,000 leaks

Summary. Falls are an enormous problem for older adults and adults with disabilities: they risk morbidity and mortality, and even non-injurious falls lead to significant limitations in mobility, independence, and community participation. Evidence shows that balance training can reduce fall risk, and that reactive (being perturbed) training may be more effective that proactive (self- initiated). Proactive training is more typical clinically though because it is perceived as easier and safer. Our research focuses on designing proactive interventions to reduce fall risk. This study involves both testing and training of balance under various conditions: playing challenging, full- body video games on difficult support surfaces (pro-active); being slipped in standing or while walking (reactive). For these activities, participants are in a harness designed to allow freedom of movement to recover their balance independently but which supports their weight and prevents an actual fall if they are not able to recover on their own. A load cell is used to monitor the forces exerted throughout. We will also investigate the impact of the harness on motor learning and the efficacy of the balance training.

REU Student Involvement. The REU student(s) will coordinate instrumentation and analysis involving motion and load cell data from two different systems. This will include setting up the instrumentation and writing code to allow online analysis of the load cell signal from the gait, standing, or gaming set-ups. This allows in-the-moment decisions about the subjects’ use of the harness as they learn the balance tasks and post-hoc data analysis.

Health Care and Patient Experience. This project has direct contact with human research participants who are individuals with conditions that would lead them to receive physical therapy, balance training, and fall risk reduction.

Quantifying Locomotor Deficits in People with Chiari Malformation

Faculty Mentor Brian Davis

Summary. Chiari Malformation (CM) is a congenital disorder in which the cerebellar tonsils descend into the foramen magnum. This descent blocks the pathway for normal flow of cerebrospinal fluid (CSF), creating an increased pressure gradient within the brain and spinal cord. This disorder leads to a loss of neuromuscular coordination, muscle weakness, and instability during normal locomotion activities such as gait and upright stance. Some of these symptoms may be associated with cerebellar compression, others with basilar invagination.

While there is no cure for CM, surgical decompression can be performed to reduce symptoms. However, the degree to which surgery is successful is hampwered by the fact that there is no published literature on neuromuscular coordination or stability in this cohort of patients. There is therefore a critical need to identify neuromuscularcontrol methods used by individuals with CM. One aspect that is of particular interest relates to velocity-dependent changes in muscle activation in the lower extremity.

REU Student Involvement. The student(s) will do one of the following projects:

  1. Creation of a multibody simulation of the push-off phase of gait. In this project, a student will use ADAMS software replicate the biomechanics of the ankle musculature during walking.
  2. Collection and analysis of gait data pertaining to adult Chiari patients as they walk on a treadmill. One of the protocols involves perturbation training – an intervention whereby patients learn to respond to challenges imposed by pre-programmed fluctuations in
    treadmill speed.
  3. Collection and analysis of pediatric Chiari gait patterns, with particular focus on upright stance and over ground gait patterns.

Health Care and Patient Experience. Students will observe experiments with Chiari patients and use engineering tools and software to understand the physiology of normal and pathological gait.

Functional Tissue Restoration with Regenerative Rehabilitation

Faculty Mentor Prabaha Sikder

Summary. Functional electrical stimulation helps in restoring various kinds of limb functions. At a cellular level, bioelectrical signals influence a wide variety of cells. For instance, endogenous electric currents direct stem cell migration for epidermal wound healing, while applied electrical stimulation promotes functional nerve regeneration. Such principles underlie many interventional approaches implemented in the clinical field of rehabilitative medicine. They also underlie a growing area of interest in regenerative medicine, where electric field generating biomaterials are developed to promote expedited tissue regeneration.  Together they drive therapeutics to the collaborative field of Regenerative Rehabilitation.  The present project aims to develop and validate a defect-specific, scaffold that can generate in situ electrical signals at the defect site to enhance functional tissue regeneration. The central hypothesis is that the engineered scaffold will generate in situ electrical fields when there is applied biophysical forces from activities like walking and running. The resultant localized electrical signals will help in cell migration and differentiate them into myogenic lineage thus resulting in expedited tissue regeneration.

REU Student Involvement. The student(s) will do one of the following projects:

  1. Develop an optimum material formulation and fabricating a piezoelectric construct with favorable material properties. The student(s) will obtain hands-on experience in developing and analyzing a ‘smart’ scaffold using additive manufacturing techniques. Efforts will be
    focused on determining the correct ratio of natural or synthetic polymer, ceramics, and hydrogel, and fabricate a mechanically stable scaffold. Additionally, the scaffold will be engineered to exhibit stiffness close to innate skeletal muscle and generate electrical fields close to endogenous ones. To achieve the above-mentioned aim(s), the student(s) will work with state-of-the-art additive manufacturing techniques, set up instrumentation for simulating various kinds of biophysical forces (e.g. during walking, running, normal standing) on the scaffolds, and measure the electric field generation.
  2. Create mechanical stress on the scaffold and analyze the stem cell response in the electrical field microenvironment in vitro. This part of the project aims to understand the effect of the electrical field on stem cells. The stem cell response in the scaffold microenvironment will be explored on the extent of cellular proliferation, differentiation, expression of certain proteins, and finally on the capability of myotube formation. The student(s) will be trained on working with stem cells and also conducting in vitro assays for the assessment of the engineered scaffolds in a cellular environment.

Health Care and Patient Experience. The REU student(s) will attend a spinal cord injury clinic at MetroHealth Medical Center.  These clinics, held every other week, involve training activities and interactions between occupational theapists, rehabilitation doctors, and people with spinal cord injuries.

Identification of feedback control in human movement

Faculty Mentor Ton van den Bogert

Ton projecttreadmill gait analysis

Summary. One of our research goals is to develop methods for identification and quantification of feedback control in human movement. This is motivated by the need to incorporate human-like control in powered prostheses and exoskeletons, but this also has potential clinical applications such as the diagnosis of neural deficits due to aging or disease.

REU Student Involvement. The student will do experiments on standing balance using a computer-controller treadmill to rapidly pull the feet horizontally while standing. Motion capture and electromyography will be used to record reflexes and motion responses.  Possible experimental research questions are: the effect of attention, fatigue, etc. The student will also learn to use OpenSim and Matlab to simulate these experiments on the computer with a neuro-musculo-skeletal model. The end goal of the research is to find a control law, representing the circuits in the spinal cord, that explains the human responses. An important question is whether the reflex is generated by a stretch sensor or a force sensor in the muscle. Depending on the student's interest, the focus can be more on experiments or more on simulation.

Health Care and Patient Experience. The REU student(s) will attend amputee clinics at the Cleveland VA. These clinics, currently held every month at the VA, involve training activities and interactions between prosthetists and amputees. These clinics will provide the student with an appreciation of the importance of user intent, and an appreciation of the prosthesis usability issues that are faced by amputees. The student will be expected to reflect on their experiences at the amputee clinics in a structured way, including thinking about how prosthesis user concerns should inform their user intent research.