September 05, 2018
Biomedical engineering
The Catholic University of America School of Engineering has been awarded a $4.6 million, 5-year grant to establish a Rehabilitation Engineering Research Center (RERC).

This new endeavor is funded by the National Institute on Disability, Independent Living, and Rehabilitation Research of the Department of Health and Human Services, and will focus on patient-centered, mobile technologies to assess and treat sensorimotor impairment in individuals with neurologic injury. Various target populations will include infants at risk for developmental motor delay, children with cerebral palsy, and adults who have suffered strokes. Each of these conditions results in sensorimotor impairments that profoundly impact quality of life and function, and places significant demands on the American health care system.

Rehabilitation treatment and assessments are currently completed in the clinic by highly skilled physicians and therapists. However, traveling to a clinic to receive one-on-one treatment is costly and can be a challenge that severely limits access for patients with sensorimotor impairments, contributing to reduced effectiveness of many interventions. Furthermore, there is growing evidence that clinic-based assessments of movement ability do not directly measure the ultimate goal of rehabilitation: spontaneous use of impaired limbs integrated into activities of daily living. The goal of this RERC is to develop home-based technologies for assessments that are more valid and treatments that are less expensive, more convenient, and potentially more effective.

Peter Lum, chair of Biomedical Engineering, will serve as RERC’s director, leading an interdisciplinary team of investigators from four area institutions including Catholic University, MedStar National Rehabilitation Hospital (NRH), Children’s National Health System, and Johns Hopkins University. The dynamic team will includes physicians, scientists, research therapists, and engineers — including Catholic University professors Sang Wook Lee, Sahana Kukke, Lin-Ching Chang, and Otto Wilson.

The center will incorporate six research and development projects that will use biomedical devices and monitoring systems to enable new patient-centered rehabilitation methods. The new projects include robotic devices designed to help individuals with stroke perform activities required for daily life; an ankle-based mechanical platform that incorporates video games into home-based rehabilitation for children with CP; methods for tracking sensorimotor development and functional muscle use in patients; and research that will guide development of future interventions and rehabilitation best practices.

In addition to training graduate students and postdoctoral fellows, the center will provide opportunities for undergraduate engineering students with a summer internship program. The center will also engage in outreach to local middle and high schools, with the goal of introducing young people to the field of rehabilitation engineering.

The new center builds on an existing collaboration between Catholic University Biomedical Engineering and NRH called the Center for Applied Biomechanics and Rehabilitation Research (CABRR), which was founded in 2002 and is currently directed by Peter Lum.

“This RERC reaffirms Catholic University’s reputation as a national leader in rehabilitation engineering,” said Lum. “The engineering innovations and knowledge gained will contribute to a paradigm shift away from clinic-based to home and community-based approaches. I’m most excited about technologies that empower patients with access to therapies 24/7 and enable more frequent and valid assessments that will help us better understand the recovery process.”