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Robotic therapy set to put Perth on neuro rehab map

Strokes, traumatic brain injuries and spinal cord injuries significantly impact patients’ ability to move. New ECU research focusing on the use of robotics for rehabilitation could hold the key to effective treatment.

Robotic therapy could unblock a brighter future for people who have suffered a stroke, traumatic brain injury or spinal cord injury.

Professor Dylan Edwards, Director of the new NeuroRehabilitation and Robotics Laboratory, is using robotic technology to better understand issues of mobility in these patients.

He’s confident robotic therapy will be an effective treatment in the future.

Located at ECU's Joondalup Campus, the NeuroRehabilitation and Robotics Laboratory is home to Australia’s first KINARM Exoskeleton.

The KINARM – valued at $300,000 – combines robotics and virtual reality. It allows researchers to study upper-arm voluntary motor control, extracting a broad range of hand and joint-based information.

“The KINARM allows us to examine how someone is moving in a much more detailed way, allowing us to design more targeted rehabilitation programs for patients,” Professor Edwards explains.

Even small change can make a huge difference

As part of the research, Professor Edwards seeks to develop the understanding of these conditions in order to design new interventions that will aid recovery.

“Giving someone even a small amount of movement back after they have suffered neurological damage can be extremely powerful,” he says.

“Helping someone who has suffered a spinal injury to simply turn the pages of a book may not sound like much, but it can make the world of difference to the individual.”

Professor Edwards and his research team at the laboratory are collaborating with St John of God Midland Hospital and Osborne Park Hospital to follow stroke patients through their admission, treatment and recovery.

“Working with the hospitals provides the research team with a great opportunity to track patients throughout their journey, which will lead to better research outcomes,” Professor Edwards says.

Repetition through robotics

The repetition of exercises is critical for patients to regain movement following stroke or spinal injury.

The advantage of using robotics is that the robot can repeatedly perform the same precise exercises with the patient and minimise the effort required by the patient and their therapist.

Considering the limited effectiveness of current drugs and available devices, Professor Edwards says the use of robotic therapy will be fundamental to the motor recovery of affected people affected.

The initial goal is to provide the services to the Western Australian community, and then more broadly across Australia.

Ultimately patients would travel to Perth to receive neurorehabilitation not available in their home countries.

“This lab will provide a unique service within Australia and would promote Perth as a destination for Australians and internationally for people with neurological impairment to receive highly specialised and cutting-edge treatment,” Professor Dylan says.

The research aims to develop ECU as a leader in robotic neurorehabilitation.


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