The University of Southampton

New technology to help stroke patients re-learn movement under trial

Published: 
18 September 2007
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A pioneering system developed by ECS researchers along with the School of Health Professions and Rehabilitation Sciences aims to retrain weak or paralysed muscles in patients who have suffered brain damage as a result of a stroke.

The system is being trialled at the University and local people are needed to participate in trials so that this technology can be made widely available.

Researchers from the University’s School of Health Professions & Rehabilitation Sciences and the School of Electronics & Computer Science (ECS) have developed a technology to help stroke patients to re-learn movement.

Dr Jane Burridge from the School of Health Professions & Rehabilitation Sciences who is leading the research commented: ‘As far as we know, nobody has tried using a technique called iterative learning control, to help people who have had a stroke to move again. It is a great example of how state of the art control theory, normally used for industrial robots, can be applied to challenges in rehabilitation.’

Now, 18 months into the three year project, the researchers have tested the technology on healthy people and proved that it works and now want to carry out trials with local people who have suffered strokes.

Working with stroke patients, the team will look at how electrical stimulation to contract appropriate muscles through electrodes attached to the skin can be controlled to enable stroke patients to successfully perform tasks. The patient will attempt to track a moving target over a two dimensional plane by moving a joy-stick. The patient’s movement will be measured to detect the tracking error and calculations made to adjust the level and timing of stimulation so that the error is corrected. The ultimate aim is that through repetition, voluntary movement will improve, thus gradually reducing the need for artificial stimulation.

Dr Paul Lewin at ECS commented: ‘This is a very challenging project as it is the first time in Europe that this technology has been applied to humans. With robots, behaviour is entirely predictable, you can make them perform a task perfectly every time. People often reach a natural plateau in their performance, but if you can get them to repeat moves using certain tasks, they have a much better chance of recovery.’

Dr Burridge added: ‘This is a very exciting development of what could prove to be a user friendly way of enabling recovery of movement in patients who are severely disabled.

Local people living near to Southampton who are interested in knowing more about the study or participating in the trials should contact: Dr Jane Burridge, Email: sjh2jo6@soton.ac.uk,or ah10@soton.ac.uk Tel: 023 8059 8927

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