assistive technologies october/november 2010

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Innovation for independance.

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  • By Dominic Musgrave

    LIGHTNING fast connections between roboticlimbs and the human brain may be withinreach for injured soldiers and other amputeeswith the establishment of a multi-milliondollar research centre.Led by scientists at Southern MethodistUniversity and funded by a Department ofDefense initiative, the $5.6million Neuro-photonics Research Center will develop two-way fibre optic communication betweenprosthetic limbs and peripheral nerves.Marc Christensen, Center director andelectrical engineering chair at the UniversitysLyle School of Engineering, said theconnection will be key to operating realisticrobotic arms, legs and hands that not onlymove like the real thing, but also feelsensations like pressure and heat.He added: Enhancing human performancewith modern digital technologies is one ofthe great frontiers in engineeringProviding this kind of port to the nervoussystem will enable not only realistic prostheticlimbs, but also can be applied to treat spinalcord injuries and an array of neurologicaldisorders. Every movement or sensation ahuman being is capable of has a nerve signalat its root. The reason we feel heat isbecause a nerve is stimulated, telling the

    brain there's heat there. Successful completion of the fibre optic linkwill allow for sending signals seamlesslybetween the brain and artificial limbs,allowing amputees revolutionary freedom ofmovement and agility. The goal of the Centeris to develop a link compatible with livingtissue that will connect powerful computertechnologies to the human nervous systemthrough hundreds or even thousands ofsensors embedded in a single fibre.Marc said that unlike experimental electronicnerve interfaces made of metal, fibre optictechnology would not be rejected ordestroyed by the bodys immune system.He added: Team members have beendeveloping the individual pieces of thesolution over the past few years, but withthis new funding we are able to push thetechnology forward into an integratedsystem that works at the cellular level.The ultimate combination of advancedoptical nerve stimulation and nerve-sensingtechnologies will create a complete, two-wayinterface that does not currently exist. It willrevolutionise the field of brain interfaces.Science fiction writers have long imaginedthe day when the understanding andintuition of the human brain could beenhanced by the lightning speed ofcomputing technologies.

    Lightning fastconnections maybe within reach

    A star-studded line-up of pop singers raised more than 500,000for Help for Heroes in a spectacular charity concert held atTwickenham Stadium. Performers included Robbie Williams, GaryBarlow, Tom Jones (pictured), Pixie Lott, Katherine Jenkins, TheSaturdays, Alesha Dixon, former Army officer James Blunt andAlexandra Burke. 60,000 fans packed the stadium, includingmilitary guests from the rehabilitation centre at Headley Court.

    Picture: Gary Kearney

    INNOVATION FOR INDEPENDENCE ISSUE 75 October/November 10 6.95

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  • ASSISTIVE TECHNOLOGIES I OCTOBER/NOVEMBER 2010 3

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    ContactsEditorialAndrew Harrod Group Editoreditorial@assistivetechnologies.co.uk

    Dominic Musgrave Healthcare EditorEmail: dm@whpl.net Tel: 01226 734407

    Sales Christine Daly-Sadler Assistant Product ManagerEmail: cds@whpl.net Tel: 01226 734412 Fax: 01226 734478

    Tony Barry Sales and Marketing DirectorEmail: tb@whpl.net

    Circulationcirculation@wharncliffepublishing.co.uk24 hour hotline: 01226 734695

    Design/Production Judith Halkerston Group Deputy EditorEmail: jhalkerston@whpl.net Stewart Holt Studio ManagerEmail: sth@whpl.net

    Whilst every effort ismade to ensure the accuracy of all contents,the publishers do notaccept liability for anyerror, printed or otherwise, that may occur.

    www.assistivetechnologies.co.uk

    If youve got a story for us please ring our healthcare editor Dominic Musgrave on 01226 734407 or email: dm@whpl.net

    Programme toboost healthwith innovativetechnologiesBy Dominic Musgrave

    THE University of Warwick has joinedforces with NHS West Midlands tocreate the new Institute of DigitalHealthcare.

    The five-year programme based inthe new International DigitalLaboratory is aimed at improvingpeoples health and wellbeingthrough the use of innovativetechnologies.

    The Institute is led by two co-directors, professor of eHealthinnovation Jeremy Wyatt andprofessor of healthcare technologyChristopher James.

    Jeremy said the Institute is tackling anumber of issues, including the useof monitoring and communicationdevices to support people in theirown homes, and improving thecommunication within and betweenhealth and social care teams.

    He added: After many pilot studies,we are now in a position to designand carry out large scale rigoroustrials to answer key generic questionsabout how health systems shoulduse these technologies to improvethe quality, efficiency and safety of

    their services for people with longterm conditions.

    We will be working with the localNHS, small businesses and others togenerate the evidence needed tohelp policy makers, clinicians andpatients decide how to invest in andmake best use of these new digitalhealthcare technologies.

    This unique partnership provides uswith insight to design, develop,deploy and evaluate a wide range ofhealthcare technologies to address arange of healthcare scenarios.

    As part of the Institutes launch,there are a series of internationalconferences planned over the nextfew years. The first, Advances inDigital Healthcare: Telehealth andMobile Health, will take place onOctober 7.

    The aim is to review researchactivities and achievement intelehealth and mobile health in theWest Midlands and beyond.

    The conference will include invitedspeakers presenting on key aspectsof digital healthcare as well as avariety of oral presentations andposters.

    A JOINT project is looking into howlistening to a regular beat could helpstroke survivors improve theirwalking and reduce the risk of a fall.

    The new study by researchers fromthe University of Birmingham andthe University of Worcester has beenlaunched to find out how the use ofa metronome, a device used bymusicians to keep to a beat, couldaid stroke patients.

    According to the Department ofHealth every year approximately110,000 people in England have astroke, which is the single largestcause of adult disability.

    Dr Rachel Wright, post doctoralresearch fellow at the University ofBirminghams School of Psychology,said about 80 per cent of peoplewho have had a stroke suffer adegree of muscle weaknessassociated with one side, whichcould lead to an uneven walkingpattern.

    She added: An uneven walk canlead to a greater risk of a fall, andonce someone has suffered a fallthey can be fearful of falling again.

    This can prevent people fromparticipating in activities that theyonce enjoyed because they are soworried about falling over.

    Through this research we hope tolook at how the use of a metronomecan help to regulate a strokepatients walk and help them toachieve symmetry.

    Rachel is currently looking for stroke

    survivors to take part in the research,which will take place at University ofWorcesters state-of-the-art MotionPerformance Centre.

    She added: We hope that theresults will be used to design ahome-based exercise programmewhich stroke survivors can use aspart of their rehabilitation.

    The three-year project is beingfunded by The Stroke Association,and research liaison officer Dr SharlinAhmed says they are looking forwardto hearing how it progresses.

    She added: For many strokesurvivors walking speed is reducedsignificantly after a stroke andwalking with ease, in a straight linecan be incredibly difficult.

    Its great that further research isbeing carried out in this area andnew techniques are being exploredto help stroke survivors with theirongoing recovery.

    Dr Rachel Wright assesses a patient

    Metronome couldhelp stroke survivors

    SEVERELY injured troops from Headley Court crewed aboat at the annual Cowes Week yachting regatta.

    The boat 'British Soldier', operated by the charity Toe inthe Water, is now in its third season. It was launched togive military personnel recovering from injuries at thedefence medical rehabilitation centre the opportunity toaccelerate the process by competitive race sailing.

    Seven of the 22-man squad were from Headley Court,with injuries ranging from shattered hands and missingcalf muscles to amputated limbs.

    Tanya Brookfield, the charity's director and one of thefounders, said the rolling motion of the sea can often helpservice personnel that would otherwise struggle with theirbalance on terra firma.

    She added: We are not about disabled sailing; you won'tfind us using specially adapted boats or anything like that.It's all about putting these people up against able-bodiedcrews in a highly competitive race sailing environment.

    Private Dean Caudley, who lost his left leg in a roadside bombincident in Afghanistan, competes at Cowes Week.

    Picture: Chris Fletcher

    Injured servicemen crew boat at yachting regatta

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    A TRIPLE amputee was among 60adrenaline seekers whoconducted a parachute jump overWiltshire to raise money forsoldiers, former soldiers and theirfamilies.

    Corporal Andy Reid, from 3rdBattalion The Yorkshire Regiment,suffered severe injuries from animprovised device while serving inAfghanistan last autumn.

    As a result of the explosion helost both legs and his right arm.He is receiving ongoing treatmentfor his left arm, which was alsodamaged and is now fitted with ametal plate.