Located in the Lyndhurst Centre, Canada’s largest spinal cord injury rehabilitation centre, the Rehabilitation Engineering Laboratory (REL) is a facility devoted to the advancement of knowledge, education and technology in the field of rehabilitation engineering. Since 2001, researchers at the REL have been working to enhance the recovery of people who experience motor impairment due to neurological trauma or disease. For example, the team has made pioneering advances in functional electrical stimulation (FES) therapy to help restore reaching and grasping function after spinal cord injury or stroke.
With a 5,000 sq ft facility equipped for advanced technology development, scientific enquiry, and clinical research, the REL supports multiple research groups within TRI’s Neural Engineering and Therapeutics team. It is home to a large group of talented, passionate, and dedicated individuals from a diverse set of backgrounds who come together to advance scientific knowledge and state of the art technologies in the field of rehabilitation medicine.
A few examples of our ongoing projects include:
Recent evidence suggests that the integration of brain-computer interfacing technologies into the motor rehabilitation after paralysis can result in greater and/or faster outcomes. We are developing and testing a Functional Electrical Stimulation (FES) therapy, triggered by the activity of the brain, to restore voluntary movement of the arm and hand after spinal cord injury and stroke. Our first results have allowed us to see significant improvements even in cases that typically are unable to participate in other forms of therapy.
FES can generate muscle contractions for rehabilitation and/or exercise, but traditional methods of application lead to rapid muscle fatigue. We have developed a strategy to reduce fatigue, called Spatially-Distributed-Sequential-Stimulation (SDSS), which rotates electrical pulses between multiple active electrodes to mimic natural muscle activation. The overall purpose of this project is to identify a method of delivering FES that maximizes neuromuscular performance, prolonging rehabilitation and/or exercise sessions for the user.
REL researchers are working with Myant Inc. to develop a new generation of stimulation device: FES garments. These shirts and pants made of conductive and non-conductive fabric, are much easier to set up than existing FES devices, and have the potential to help provide greater access to this beneficial therapy. We are designing and testing the garments with the help of stroke survivors and individuals with spinal cord injury and continuing to refine these devices to provide state-of-the-art FES control.
The restoration of upper limb function is usually rated as the top priority by quadriplegic individuals. In order to develop effective new rehabilitation interventions and improve outcomes, it is important to measure and track hand function on a regular basis throughout the rehabilitation process. Because of the enormous complexity of the human hand, creating sensors that can accurately quantify its function is a significant technical challenge. Our team is using tools including computer vision, wearable devices, and artificial intelligence to develop methods that can be used to track hand function throughout the rehabilitation process, from the clinic to the home. This information can then be used to develop individualized and responsive rehabilitation programs.
REL is fully equipped for human motion analysis, neuromodulation and neuroprosthetic investigations, and clinical research. Our activities span basic research, technology development, and randomized controlled clinical trials.