Marquette University Awarded $4.75 Million Grant To Improve Gear, Treatment For Children With Disabilities Like Cerebral Palsy

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Posted on 27th October 2010 by gjohnson in Uncategorized

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Marquette University has won a $4.75 million grant from the federal government to work on improving the treatment of children with disabilities such as cerebral palsy, spina bifida and clubfoot, the school announced Wednesday.

Gerald Harris, professor of biomedical engineering, is the principal investigator for the MU-RERC project, which will also involve other departments at Marquette, as well as the Department of Orthopaedic Surgery at the Medical College of Wisconsin, Shriners Hospital for Children in Chicago, the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago, the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and the Milwaukee School of Engineering.

“Everything we are undertaking is designed to have a direct impact on children, to improve their care, rehabilitation and quality of life,” Harris said. The intent of the grant is to transfer and commercialize the research to “offer new tools, better technologies and improved treatment strategies” for  children with cerebral palsy, clubfoot, spina bifida, spinal cord injury, brittle bone disease (osteogenesis imperfecta) and other conditions that cause mobility and manipulation problems.

Harris, director of the Orthopaedic and Rehabilitation Engineering Center (OREC) at Marquette, has been working with these populations of children for more than 30 years.

“Some of the processes we use have never been definitively studied or applied to patients,” Harris said. “We want to design better devices and improved protocols that will help alert doctors, therapists, caregivers and family members of joint overload concerns. The intent is to have an impact in modifying activities and treatments in order to improve functional activities and quality of life.”

Those devices will include the development of an elliptical machine to improve neuromuscular control and stability in children. Other development projects are a novel pediatric robotic gait trainer; a biplanar (3-D) fluoroscopic imaging system that will allow researchers to see the internal motion of the bones inside the foot; and a customized orthotic (brace) based on sensor technologies to treat pediatric flat foot.

The research projects funded under the grant include:

•    Gait analysis of children with OI and severe clubfoot  deformity to determine strain on the femur and humerus in those using crutches in order to modify activities or design better devices to absorb forces (and thus prevent fractures) and to better direct surgeons so they are aware of high load areas.
•    Using MRI and fMRI imaging for children with cerebral palsy to assess if there are changes in brain activity as a result of surgery or robotic-assisted rehabilitation of the arms and legs.
•    Evaluation of home-based robot-guided therapy, combined with interactive game elements to keep children interested, and tele-assessment to determine effectiveness in maintaining mobility in children with cerebral palsy; and
•    Mobility modeling of the upper and lower extremities (armsand legs) to determine the relationship between internal joint forces, assistive devices, ankle arthroeresis (implants) and longer-term tissue level effects as they relate to pain and function.

The technology transfer inherent in the grant is one of the focal points of the Clinical and Translational Science Institute, a partnership of all the major academic institutions in the region —  Marquette, MCW, UWM and MSOE, as well as Froedtert Memorial Lutheran Hospital, Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin, Zablocki VA Medical Center and Blood Center of Wisconsin. Formed in 2008, the institute recently received a $20 million grant from the National Institutes of Health to create an infrastructure for biomedical research in the Milwaukee region.

Harris said CTSI was helpful in the grant preparation and will be involved in the grant’s extensive training and dissemination activities, including development of a website to provide information for physicians, parents and children.

“This is all about improving the quality of life for these children,” he said.

A State of the Science Conference will be held in the fourth year of the grant.

The grant of $950,000 per year for five years, totaling $4.75 million, was awarded under the Rehabilitation Engineering Research Centers Program. It provides 87.8 percent of the program costs, with 12.2 percent or $659,274 funded through non-government sources.





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