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Technology for Locomotor Training
We are developing robotic devices for locomotor training after spinal cord injury and other neurologic injuries, including devices for studies in rodents and devices for human rehabilitation training.
Our initial work, led by Ph.D. student Butch Timoszyk and then Jeff Nessler in collaboration with Dr. Reggie Edgerton at UCLA and Dr. Ray de Leon at CSU Los Angeles, focused on developing a rodent robotic device (commercialized by Robomedica, Inc., see Nessler et al. 2005). The device allows precise control over the body weight support provided to a rodent as it walks on a treadmill, and can assist, perturb, and record hindlimb movement with small robotic arms. It serves as a small-scale test bed for exploring the engineering and physiological principles of step training after spinal cord injury, and has helped generate important insights into how the spinal cord learns to control locomotion after SCI. See for example: Cai et al. 2005 for information about the importance of variability and assistance-as-needed in robotic training; Cha et al. 2007 for information about the importance of training intensity for recovery; and Courtine et al. 2009 for information about using combination therapies, including pharmacology, electrical stimulation, and gait training, to restore locomotion after spinal cord injury.
Human Gait Robotics
We are also developing robotic locomotion training devices for humans with spinal cord injury (see a movie of PAM). This work is collaborative with Dr. Jim Bobrow at UC Irvine, Dr. Susan Harkema at Univ. of Louisville, Dr. Reggie Edgerton at UCLA , and Robomedica, a start-up company. Our goal is to make a robotic device that can assist a person with a SCI in practicing walking, providing appropriate sensory input, challenge, and variability, following principles of locomotor training developed by Dr. Harkema and Dr. Edgerton and their groups. In a project led by Ph.D. student Daisuke Aoyagi, we developed a device called PAM (Pelvic Assist Manipulator), which allows normal pelvic motion, thereby allowing people to practice weight shifting and balance. PAM also provides compliant assistance, thereby maintaining the cause-effect relationship between the user's effort and the resulting gait movement, allowing the user to learn to walk by experience of manageable errors. (see: Aoyagi et al. 2007)