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The University of Southampton
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Joint research enabling stroke patients recover the use of their arm and hand

Researchers at Health Sciences have teamed up with colleagues across the University and the Swiss company Hocoma to develop and trial technologies for rehabilitation of people who have had a stroke and other conditions affecting the brain and spinal cord.

When a person has suffered damage to their brain or spinal cord they are often unable to move their limbs. Technologies such as rehabilitation robots and functional electrical stimulation assist them so they can practice useful movements without one-to-one support from a therapist. This means they can practice at home or in a gym. Robotic devices are linked to computer games that are relevant to therapy and make exercise fun; and therapists find that when patients play the games, they are more motivated to continue training for longer. It is this repetitive practice that is essential for recovery.

The collaboration began in 2007 when Professor Jane Burridge was asked to join the company’s Scientific Advisory Board. The University of Southampton joined a consortium including the Institute of Technology in Zurich (ETHZ), Scuola Superior Sant’ Anna in Pisa and Hocoma to develop a robot that combined electrical stimulation of the hand with robot assisted movement of the arm.

The Rehabilitation and Health Technologies Research Group (RHT), based in Health Sciences use their state of the art biomechanics laboratory to enable them to gain a better understanding of human movement – critical in developing rehabilitation technologies and measuring how effective they are. Roberts Fellow, Dr Cheryl Metcalf, a leading young researcher who combines her engineering and biomechanics training with a growing knowledge of rehabilitation, has secured funding from Wessex Medical Research to develop the project with Hocoma and conduct the first clinical trials with patients.

Prof Eric Rogers and Dr Chris Freeman in the Faculty of Physical and Applied Sciences, in collaboration with Prof Burridge and Dr Ann-Marie Hughes of RHT are now developing ways of controlling electrical stimulation while people train in the Hocoma medical robots so that it optimises their own effort. Following the success of their initial work to improve arm movements they have now received funding from the EPSRC to control stimulation of the hand muscles and to design a system that is simple enough to be used at home.

 “Colleagues at Southampton are well-known for their tremendous knowledge of mobility and rehabilitation issues, we are delighted to work with them,” says Peter Schenk from Hocoma. “We have jointly developed a new therapy approach for people with problems moving their arms and hands which will move to patient trials.”

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