Human Performance & Engineering Research

In just five years, Human Performance and Engineering Research (HPER) has greatly expanded its research and training activities, adding staff, equipment, space and millions in funding. Under the leadership of Guang Yue, PhD, six areas of specialized research are headed by experts in biomechanics, bioengineering, movement analysis, robotics, neurophysiology and neuroimaging. All areas of specialized research contribute to the common goal to improve mobility and motor function so individuals with disabilities can participate fully in school, work, and community activities.  Their efforts fuel innovative approaches to address disabling conditions, including brain injury, spinal cord injury, multiple sclerosis, cerebral palsy, arthritis and cancer.

Research is funded by the National Institute on Disability, Independent Living & Rehabilitation Research, National Institutes of Health, Department of Defense, Reeve Foundation, New Jersey Commission on Spinal Cord Injury Research, Craig H. Neilsen Foundation, and Children’s Specialized Hospital. 

Here, we highlight HPER’s advances in our understanding of rehabilitation robotics, wheelchair design and mechanics, activity-based therapy, and recovery of the injured spinal cord.

Dr. Guang Yue of Kessler Foundation and Dr. Richard Foulds of New Jersey Institute of Technology talk about their labs robotic collaboration.

 

 

Moving Robotics into Clinical Care

Kessler Foundation has been in the forefront of translational research in robotic exoskeletons, contributing to the transition of these devices from the lab to rehabilitation facilities and the community. Since the first pilot study of the Ekso in 2011 by Gail Forrest, PT, PhD, the Foundation has actively studied the impact of exo-assisted walking in individuals with spinal cord injury. The Foundation’s contributions to robotics research extend beyond gait training to the impact on complications that affect quality of life, including loss of bowel and bladder function, chronic pain, muscle weakness and bone loss.

The initial exploration of exoskeletons for stroke rehabilitation was conducted in patients at Kessler Institute. Led by Karen Nolan, PhD, this research demonstrates the potential for these devices to streamline physical rehabilitation and improve outcomes. Most recently, Dr. Nolan has adapted this line of research to the rehabilitation of adolescents with brain injury, in collaboration with Children’s Specialized Hospital. Dr. Nolan shares her perspective on the impact of the applications for exoskeletons in this 2016 TedX Talk:

  

Addressing the Needs of Children with Disabilities

 

Manual wheelchairs mean mobility for many people with disabilities, but daily use strains users’ wrists, shoulders, elbows, and neck. Under the leadership of Peter Barrance, PhD, researchers are studying ways to lessen the stresses for young wheelchair users, an area where little research has been done. In collaboration with Children’s Specialized Hospital, they are analyzing the pros and cons of standard and ultralight wheelchairs. Building this evidence base will help establish guidelines for the selection and safe long-term use of this critical means of mobility. Providing objective evidence for insurance companies will enable more children to get the equipment they need to engage safely and efficiently in the community.

Recovering Function through Locomotor Training

Since 2004, Kessler Foundation has contributed scientific data to the NeuroRecovery Network (NRN), a clinical research program funded through the Reeve Foundation. As one of the original seven sites, the Foundation has enrolled 160 patients at Kessler Institute in this ground-breaking study of intensive activity-based rehabilitation under the leadership of Dr. Forrest, associate director of HPER.

By showing that a standardized protocol for locomotor training improves mobility, the NRN has fundamentally changed how we view rehabilitation and recovery, even among individuals with long-term injuries. Better function has resulted in improvements in health and quality of life, and lower costs of care. Based on the achievements of the NRN, training programs have been developed for therapists, and more facilities across the nation are providing access to locomotor training. Dr. Forrest’s team has extended their research, looking at the effects of electrically stimulating muscles in the legs to enhance the benefits of locomotor training.

 New lines of research are incorporating new measures and technologies, hormonal supplements and pharmacologic agents, and addressing the needs of individuals with a variety of neurological disorders. 

 

Engineering Innovative Solutions

 

Our depth of knowledge of the capabilities of today’s exoskeletons has motivated us to work on incorporating new capabilities. In partnership with New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT) the Foundation is developing a prototype for a next-generation robotic exoskeleton.

Employing new approaches, scientists are influencing the direction of research. Zhiguo Jiang, PhD, uses the unique capabilities of the Ortenzio Neuroimaging Center at Kessler Foundation to study the recovery of the injured spinal cord, and the effects of rehabilitation. This research provides new knowledge that is fundamental to our understanding recovery patterns after spinal cord injury.  of re

covery patte

rns after spinal cord injur

Engaging Students with Career Pathways

For more than a decade, Kessler Foundation has hosted girls attending NJIT’s Summer Medibiotics Program. This is the program’s most popular field trip, filled with hands-on activities and close interactions with young members of the research team. Learning how Foundation scientists apply robotics to help people with disabilities encourages interest in pursuing STEM careers. 

New Jersey Institute of Technology Summer Camp visit

 

  

Podcasts

Since 2005, Kessler Foundation has hosted NJIT (New Jersey Institute of Technology) day. On June 21, 2016, 50 seventh and eighth grade young men and women from the NJIT engineering camp received hands on demonstrations in our various research labs. We had the opportunity to speak with Dr. Karen Nolan, Sr. Research Scientist at the Foundation about this ongoing program and Kaitlyn Gross, a former camper and now teacher's assistant about the impact this program has made in her life.

Drs. Gail Forrest and Karen Nolan presenting: “Powered Robotic Exoskeleton Research in the HPER”.