Robotic systems provide numerous opportunities to improve the effectiveness of rehabilitation protocols and to lower therapy expenses for stroke patients. Because treatment intensity has a significant effect on motor recovery after stroke, the use of robotics has potential to automate labor-intensive therapy procedures. Additional potential advantages of robotics include bringing therapy to new venues including the home, new sensing capabilities for monitoring progress, and increased therapy efficiency with the possibility of group therapy. Therefore our goal is to conduct studies that help establish robotic rehabilitation as an effective therapeutic approach for stroke survivors.
In collaboration with Baylor College of Medicine and University of Houston we are using quantitative data provided during robotic therapy to determine which types of repetitive movement are better able to accelerate rehabilitation of stroke patients with unilateral weakness. Current research indicates that bilateral movements may reinforce corticospinal pathways from the healthy cortical hemisphere to the affected limb. The Mirror Image Movement Enabler (MIME) robot was the first to explore the possibilities of using robotic systems to assists the affected arm by mirroring the motion of the unaffected arm. Studies using the MIME robot suggest that bilateral training is beneficial as part of a rehabilitation regimen. We conducted a pilot study using the MIME robotic system and investigated the trajectory error (TE) exhibited by healthy adults during parallel and mirror image motions to various target locations. Results indicated that TE values differed for parallel and mirror image motions and for certain target locations, suggesting the importance of considering these factors when developing robot-assisted bimanual activities. Results of this study have been submitted to Medicine Meets Virtual Reality Medical Education conference and are helping us develop a training protocol for stroke patients.
In another project we are trying to understand brain mechanisms underlying the motor progress associated with robotic rehabilitation. This project is funded by the Institute of Bioscience and Bioengineering and is being conducted in collaboration with Baylor College of Medicine. In this study we are using brain imaging to investigate central nervous system mechanisms that are involved in motor recovery induced by a treatment protocol involving traditional physical therapy augmented with robotics.