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A firm grasp on engineering solutions

Photo by Christopher Huang.

Northeastern University engineering researchers are developing new sensing technology that would provide doctors with dynamic tools to measure the progress of patients undergoing physical therapy from stroke and other injuries.

“Our work will bring this important field of medical rehabilitation further into the information technology world of tomorrow,” said Constantinos Mavroidis, the principal investigator and a professor in Northeastern’s Department of Mechanical and Industrial Engineering.

Through a National Science Foundation grant, Mavroidis and doctoral candidate Richard Ranky will design tiny sensors to be embedded into medical devices that are customized to an individual’s need — for example, a handle or computer hardware for medical monitoring and therapy of a person’s hand.

Under a separate grant from the Center for Integration of Medicine and Innovative Technology (CIMIT) they will apply this technology to designing a customizable orthosis brace with embedded sensors to fit around the Achilles tendon and stabilize the ankle and foot, so patients who have just suffered a stroke can more safely walk and move around.

This novel approach to both the design of the sensors and their simultaneous installation into medical devices could help streamline the creation of such devices in the medical field, the researchers say.

By combining this new technology with its medical application, Mavroidis says doctors could measure the strength of a stroke patient’s grasp or the distribution of pressure around their lower extremities when walking. This information could be crucial to determining a patient’s progress during rehabilitation exercises or even help predict when a device needs replacing based on wear and tear.

The data would be collected electronically and wirelessly, so that doctors could monitor patients in person, or even receive the data transmitted from a patient in their home.

“Now that you can actually put a sensor inside a device and customize it for the user, this opens up a lot of new possibilities for personalized rehabilitation devices,” Ranky said.

On the CIMIT grant project, Northeastern researchers will collaborate with Dr. Paolo Bonato and others at Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital in Boston.

Last year, Northeastern University became a member of CIMIT, a pioneering consortium of teaching hospitals, research laboratories and engineering schools in the Boston area. Northeastern’s excellence in use-inspired research across multiple areas of scientific discovery will advance the consortium’s mission to make a profound impact on grand challenges in health care through engineering solutions.

Mavroidis, director of Northeastern’s Biomedical Mechatronics Laboratory, and his team have been involved in several breakthrough projects at Northeastern, including the Robotic Gait Rehabilitation (RGR) Trainer for patients with abnormal gait patterns and the Active Knee Rehabilitation Orthotic Device (AKROD) to correct knee hyperextension.

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