Recent updates on rehabilitation engineering

The research developments in rehabilitation engineering is viewed hopefully by the people with disabilities, let’s discuss.  So far, a wide range of technical methods and promising research are supported by NIBIB (National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering). Out of several examples 4 are mentioned below:

Navigation Aids, restoring muscle control, Prosthesis control, Closed-loop braces for limbs, and spine. 

Navigation aids: Visually Impaired personals would require some extent of assistance to move around through unfamiliar places. An advanced image processing cane is being developed by the Rehabilitation Engineering/Bioengineering research team, which is enhanced with computer vision and vibration feedback. The cane guides the user towards his destination by creating a navigation plan. The cane’s image processing technology maps the room’s structure to identify the important features like stairs, doors, and obstacles, and the feedback is provided in the form of speech or vibrations through the cane handle. Another team of Rehabilitation Engineers, too, have developed a device. But this device only provides very low-resolution images to the user. This system functions by electrically stimulating the retina, sending nerve impulses through the optic nerve to the brain. By which the user is provided with just enough information about the location to navigate through and can read large writing, like street signs. 

Restoring Muscle control: Usually people with spinal cord injuries barely have the ability to control muscle groups below the spot where they’re injured. They often might need to depend on assistive devices or a caregiver. A group of Bioengineers are examining a technology to approach spinal cord injuries. The team has developed a system that is completely implantable. This implant uses a sensor which functions measuring voluntary muscle contractions above the injured spot, sending electrical signals the sensor triggers muscle activity below the injured spot. This technology has succeeded in restoring the standing, cycling, stepping and hand grasp activities. Next group of Bioengineering researchers have developed a technology using electrical stimulus in combination with physical therapy by which the central nervous system can be more efficiently trained to improve the function of the remaining neurons at the injury site. The Bio Engineering team, by applying a non-invasive system, trains the remaining nervous system below the injury, how to walk. This technology has improved patients’ walking speed even after the therapy had stopped. Yet another Biomedical team tried implantable spinal cord stimulators, it’s designed to reduce pain, also to reduce and change neuro spinal activity to retain control of locomotor activity in patients. 

Prosthesis Control: An increased complexity in the traditional prostheses for amputees lack the ability to detect a user’s fine motor commands.  Biomedical Research teams have developed technologies which record and transmit the user’s purpose to use their hands to grasp, grip or pinch much accurately by recording the electrical impulse sent by the user. Placing Electro Implantations in the remaining part of arm muscles, peripheral nerves, brain and spinal cord, the electrical signals are detected and converted into digital commands, which helps to drive the hand prosthesis improving the function efficiently. Care has been taken by the Bio Engineering research team to modify the system for each limb taking notice of the diverse needs of each amputee. 

Closed-loop props for limbs and spine: Old-style orthoses, were purely mechanical, to provide postural and structural and functional characteristics of the musculoskeletal system. The functional performance of users can be increased by combining electronic sensors, controllers, and motors.  A study is being done to create an Ankle-foot Brace which comes with a hydraulically adjustable stiffness which can mimic foot functions in a healthy individual. The team is planning to develop an adjustable system of the same device that can be properly adapted for children as they grow. Studies are being done by Bioengineers to build a hydraulic system which can use the power from the less impaired limb to support motion in the impaired limb. A 3rd approach by another Engineering team is to build a system for individuals with thoracic/lumbar vertebrae that are compressed or crushed. The plan is to build an electromechanical control system which is capable of supporting the entire range of motion. 

From the above research in the Rehabilitation Devices a wide range of achievements can be expected in this Biomedical and Bioengineering field. 


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