USC receives grant to study impact of technology on disability
The National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research has awarded a five-year, $4.75 million grant to USC and Rancho Los Amigos National Rehabilitation Center to establish the Rehabilitation Engineering Research Center for Technologies for Successful Aging with Disability.
The new Rehabilitation Engineering Research Center, or RERC, will use the yearly grant award of $950,000 to study the challenges of growing older with disabilities and the positive effects that new technologies can have on independence, health and quality of life. Whether an individual ages with a preexisting disability, such as spinal cord injury or cerebral palsy, or develops a new disability with age, such as osteoarthritis or Parkinson’s disease, his or her aging process tends to progress much more rapidly than that of a nondisabled peer, said Carolee Winstein, professor of biokinesiology and physical therapy and the new center’s director.
“This affects independence and whether someone can participate in life or not,” she said. “We want to develop technology to reduce stress and decelerate this aging process.”
According to Winstein, the center’s four projects all revolve around optimizing participation through technology. Project 1 seeks to develop a reliable method to assess hand function and dexterity, as well as extend the technology to enjoyable immersive activities or games that help patients analyze and improve hand and finger movement.
In Project 2, the center aims to integrate with the other three projects and to develop fun, low-cost virtual games that persons with a variety of functional impairments could use at home to retain or increase physical function and movement.
Project 3 focuses on finding ways, including virtual reality, to teach healthy movement techniques that minimize and prevent shoulder damage, which can occur as wheelchair-bound patients propel themselves or transfer themselves in and out of the wheelchair.
Project 4 will examine the use of wireless microstimulators implanted in muscles to automatically shift an immobile patient’s weight and thus avoid pressure ulcers.
The Center’s work brings together clinicians, researchers, policy experts and innovators from all around the university: the School of Dentistry division of biokinesiology and physical therapy and division of occupational science and occupational therapy; Davis School of Gerontology, Viterbi School of Engineering; Rossier School of Education; Keck School of Medicine; Stevens Institute for Innovation; College of Letters, Arts and Sciencs; Information Science Institute and Institute for Creative Technologies.
Principal investigators for each project are Francisco Valero-Cuevas, associate professor of biomedical engineering (Project 1); Albert Rizzo, research scientist with the Institute for Creative Technologies (Project 2); Philip Requejo, adjunct assistant professor of kinesiology, and Sara Mulroy, adjunct assistant professor of biokinesiology and physical therapy (Project 3); and Lucinda Baker, associate professor of biokinesiology and physical therapy (Project 4).
For more information on the Rehabilitation Engineering Research Center for Technologies for Successful Aging with Disability, visit www.isi.edu/research/rerc.