The University of Southampton

Award for innovative stroke rehabilitation technology

Published: 2 February 2009

A pioneering stroke rehabilitation system developed by ECS academics has scored two successes: it will receive an award this week and has just received funding for further development.

According to Dr Chris Freeman from the ECS Electrical Power Engineering group, this research could mean that portable, affordable stroke rehabilitation equipment, which patients can use in their own homes, could be developed within five years.

On Thursday (5 February), Dr Freeman and the team will receive an award from the Institute of Measurement and Control (InStMC) for a paper on this system, at the same time as Dr Freeman is awarded a new £285,000 grant from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) to develop the technology further.

The article, entitled 'An Experimental Facility for the Application of Iterative Learning Control as an Intervention Aid to Stroke Rehabilitation' was deemed the best article to appear in the InStMC journals throughout 2006 and 2007.

'This recognition and our new EPSRC grant are taking us closer to technology that people can use in their own homes. We are taking significant steps to making this a reality,’ said Dr Freeman.

This work builds on the system which was developed by researchers from the University’s School of Health Sciences and ECS to help stroke patients to re-learn movement. The system was trialled on a small group of patients in 2008 to establish its feasibility.

Working with stroke patients, the team applied electrical stimulation to contract appropriate muscles through electrodes attached to the skin which they found could be controlled to enable the patients to successfully perform tasks. They found that those trialled could track a moving target over a two-dimensional plane by moving their arm using a custom-made robotic workstation. The ultimate aim was that through repetition, voluntary movement would improve, thus gradually reducing the need for artificial stimulation.

‘As far as we know, up to now, nobody has tried using a technique called iterative learning control, to help people who have had a stroke to move again,’ said Dr Freeman. ‘This 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, the researchers are taking this research a stage further and plan over the two-year period of the EPSRC grant to expand these technologies to enable the stimulation of more muscles in the arm and hand and more flexible, functional tasks to be performed.

The award-winning paper is: ‘An Experimental Facility for the Application of Iterative Learning Control as an Intervention Aid to Stroke Rehabilitation’, Freeman, C. T., Hughes, A. M., Burridge, J. H., Chappell, P. H., Lewin, P. L. and Rogers, E. (2007) Measurement + Control: The Journal of the Institute of Measurement and Control, 40 (1). pp. 20-23. ISSN 0020-2940.

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