The neuroprosthesis for standing and balancing is a device that will allow some paraplegic subjects to stand up, to perform stable “hands-free” standing, and to sit down in that particular sequence. This system could be used either as a stand-alone device or as an integral part of a wheelchair to allow a wider range of reaching and object manipulation beyond what is achievable with current wheelchair technology. The neuroprosthesis for standing and balancing has already been identified by a number of leading research institutions as the most promising technological innovation in the rehabilitation field, with opportunities for immediate application. Besides the obvious functional benefits, this neuroprosthesis would also help patients prevent bone demineralization by allowing them to load their bones and joints for prolonged periods of time. Consequently, this would reduce the number of fracture incidents these patients commonly experience. This neuroprosthesis would also allow patients to reactivate their venous pump, to increase muscle volume in their legs and lower back, and would help them reduce the number of pressure sore incidents. Although this project presents a significant engineering challenge, it also introduces a number of scientific questions that need to be answered before such a system can be developed.
- To determine the minimum set of sensory inputs needed to reliably identify able-bodied subjects’ stability during standing
- To identify the minimum set of muscles needed to effectively control balance during standing
- To test whether FES technology can be successfully applied to generate sufficiently strong and fast muscle contractions to compensate for unexpected disturbances during standing
- To investigate what control strategies able-bodied subjects use to maintain balance, and whether these control strategies can be replicated with a neuroprosthesis. Also, if we manage to identify these strategies, we would like to determine how effective they would be, assuming the significant time delays already experienced with artificial muscle activation by FES
- The last and the most intriguing question is to determine if some of the balance strategies and reflexes that are retained in the spinal cord post-injury could be used in synergy with the neuroprosthesis control strategy to provide effective “hands-free” standing