Newswise — Balance is an essential component of daily life, something many of us take for granted. But not everyone can. In the United States alone, there are about 300,000 people living with spinal cord injury (SCI) and some 12,000 new SCI cases each year, most of them young adults, 80% of them men. The recovery of motor functions—walking, standing, and balance—after a SCI is slow and limited, can be highly variable, and can take months or even years. The cost of care for SCI patients is enormous—annually over $3 billion. Studies have shown, however, that activity-based interventions offer a promising approach, and Sunil Agrawal, professor of mechanical engineering and of rehabilitation and regenerative medicine at Columbia Engineering, is at the forefront of research efforts to improve recovery through the development of novel robotic devices and interfaces that help patients retrain their movements.
One of Agrawal’s current projects, “Tethered Pelvic Assist Device (TPAD) and Epidural Stimulation for Recovery of Standing in Spinal Cord Injured Patients,” recently won a five-year $5 million grant from the New York State Spinal Cord Injury Board. The project is a collaboration with co-PI Susan Harkema and Claudia Angeli in the Department of Neurological Surgery at the University of Louisville, KY, and Joel Stein, Chair of the Department of Rehabilitation and Regenerative Medicine, and Ferne Pomerantz, MD, assistant professor of rehabilitation and regenerative medicine in the Department of Rehabilitation and Regenerative Medicine, both at Columbia University Medical Center. Agrawal’s focus is on improving the effectiveness of stand/balance training during SCI rehabilitation by using a unique robotic system—Tethered Pelvic Assist Device (TPAD)—invented in his Robotics and Rehabilitation (ROAR) Laboratory at Columbia Engineering.