September 23, 2021
St. David’s Rehabilitation Hospital, a leader in Central Texas, maintains active research ranging from prosthetics to robotic exoskeletons to advanced sensor technologies for stroke, spine, neuromuscular, and brain injuries. Central to our rehabilitation research is increasing neuroplasticity to heighten independence and improve function.
St. David’s HealthCare brings the latest in technological and medical advancement to the rehabilitation and recovery process. Under the direction of our medical directors and physician colleagues for the stroke and neurological recovery programs, as well as the spinal cord injury and amputee programs, improving patient care drives their research.
Highlighting rehabilitation research is the fact that our physicians have cared for thousands of individuals and family members at every stage of the recovery process. They seek to use the latest advances in medicine, innovation, and technology to improve patient outcomes, safety, and efficacy. Our physicians collaborate with industry and leading engineering academicians to validate these clinically cutting-edge protocols and devices. Their goal is to minimize impairments and restore function after injury. From their experience, they are able to speak to the challenges and opportunities of adopting, for example, robotics in a clinical rehabilitation program. In addition to using robotics in the rehabilitation process, St. David’s also researches the use of assistive prosthetic devices.
Lower limb amputees may experience several physical limitations including balance and mobility impairment. Residual limb-volume fluctuations can also lead to vertical friction between the socket and residual limb, which can result in tissue damage or ulcerations. Newer vacuum-assisted systems allow for potentially greater walking autonomy, balance confidence, better prosthesis control and proprioception. Research around risk of falling, functional benefits, and mobility are key to continue to advance optimal patient outcomes.
St. David’s Rehabilitation Hospital is collaborating with German prosthetics company Ottobock (which operates U.S. headquarters in Austin, Texas), on clinical outcome research to improve mobility, fit, safety and effectiveness of individuals using dynamic vacuum-assisted prosthetics.
Given the need to reduce long-term disability for young stroke patients, early robot assisted upper arm recovery following stroke may someday reduce long-term impact of disability and this type of research project is pivotal to improving patient outcomes.
It is estimated that in the U.S. alone, over 276,000 individuals suffer from spinal cord injuries (SCI). Current ambulatory training uses devices to provide biomechanical support (neuroprosthetics) and/or intensive locomotor exercise (neurotherapeutic). Robotic-assisted powered exoskeletons are a relatively new technology and offer the possibility of adapting a paralyzed person to the existing environment, rather than adapting the existing environment to a wheelchair to improve functional standing and walking tasks with a trained companion.
Collaborations with the University of Texas at Austin and Human Engineering lab at University of California, Berkeley along with industry partners have been in upper limb, lower limb, and hand and wrist research. Research continues for those individuals with muscle weakness and nerve damage that impairs voluntary movement as well as those who experience loss of muscle function for a part of their body (stroke, traumatic brain injury, spinal cord injury, and movement disorders). Ongoing assessment to evaluate the safety, efficiency and real-world uses of exoskeleton and rehabilitation assistive devices are central to St. David’s rehab research.
Please email the Office of Research if you have interest in collaboration