Mechanical engineer and inventor Zach Lerner, an assistant professor in the mechanical engineering department at the University of Northern Arizona, was awarded $ 2.1 million by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development Eunice Kennedy Shriver of the National Institutes of Health.
This funding, Lerner’s largest grant as principal investigator to date, will allow him to launch a large, five-year clinical trial to test a strategy for treating children with cerebral palsy (CP) using his patented and pending inventions. including a lightweight, wearable robotic device that provides neuromuscular training while making walking easier.
This is the most significant grant we have received so far in terms of duration, budget and scope. The project is based directly on the work we have been doing at NAU for the past five years – developing an adaptive ankle skeletal exoskeleton device that offers a lightweight, portable and effective way to improve mobility in children with CP. We have completed the technological evaluations and initial clinical feasibility studies and pilot studies needed to collect preliminary data for this randomized controlled trial (RCT), which is the gold standard for clinical trials aimed at establishing the effectiveness of a new intervention against the standard of care.“
Zack Lerner, Mechanical Engineer and Inventor, Assistant Professor, Department of Mechanical Engineering, University of Northern Arizona
Many members of Lerner’s team working with him in the biomechatronics laboratory on NAU’s Flagstaff campus played an important role in completing this work, including NAU postdoctoral fellows Ying Fang and Paul Stegall; NAU students Greg Orehov, Chance Kudebek, Leah Libelt, Carl Harsche and Safura Bishe; NAU students Sam Maxwell and Jeff Yous; and PhD student Ben Connor of the University of Arizona.
Lerner’s team will work with Mike Schwartz and his team at Gillette Children’s Specialty Healthcare in St. Paul, Minnesota, to conduct a 12-week gait training intervention using exoskeleton technology developed at NAU and built by Lerner’s spin-off company Biomotum. Other aspects of the project will take place in Lerner’s laboratory and in the Laboratory of Abilities and Innovation at the University of Washington in collaboration with Kat Steele.
Research to establish fundamental knowledge, guidelines for clinical and home treatment
The child’s ability to walk effectively is essential for physical health and general well-being. Nearly 4 in 1,000 children are affected by CP, a neurological disorder that affects muscle control and coordination and often makes walking extremely difficult.
Although most treatment strategies have proved inadequate, one of the most promising potential new treatment options is the use of battery-powered wearable robots or exoskeletons that provide home-based gait training and mobility assistance. These devices have the potential to revolutionize the rehabilitation of patients with neuromuscular deficits, significantly reducing their lifelong suffering and the resulting economic burdens on their families.
“There is a broad clinical consensus that plantar flexor or calf muscle dysfunction is a major contributor to slow, inefficient, and stiff walking patterns in people with CP,” Lerner said. “Our study will focus on two hypotheses: that targeted ankle resistance training will lead to greater improvements in lower limb motor control, gait mechanics and clinical mobility measures compared to standard physical therapy and standard gait training. , and that adaptive ankle care will lead to significantly greater capacity and productivity compared to walking with ankle braces and walking with only shoes. “
“The study will examine the characteristics of participants (eg age, gender, GMFCS level, walking speed, spasticity assessment) that are most relevant to the best improvement after each intervention to provide guidance for future clinical and home use. establishing fundamental knowledge of the ability of adaptive ankle interventions to treat gait impairment compared to the standard of care in CP. “
University of Northern Arizona