By Richard Asinof
PROVIDENCE – The Providence Veteran Affairs Medical Center opened its new Research Center of Excellence for Neurorestoration and Neurotechnology on Oct. 26.
The research center, which will receive $900,000 a year for the next five years from the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs, is an important step toward helping veterans with psychiatric or neurological conditions, as well as limb loss, according to spokesman Tom Antonaccio.
The research center is a collaborative initiative between the Providence Veteran Affairs Medical Center, the Brown Institute for Brain Science at Brown University, Butler Hospital, Lifespan, and Massachusetts General Hospital.
“This new Center of Excellence is a major new asset for brain science research, the fruits of which will benefit both our Veterans and the broader population,” says Vincent Ng, Medical Center director. The research will focus on development of brain computer interfaces for people with paralysis or limb loss, prosthethic limb evaluation and translation to use, and robotic and imaging-guided neurorehabilitation technology and testing
An example of the work being undertaken by the research center are the new metrics that have been developed for activities by upper limb amputees. A research team led by physical therapist Linda Resnik, an associate research professor in public health at Brown University and a research scientist at the Providence Veterans Affairs Medical Center, unveiled a new index that clinicians can use to assess patients’ progress, in an article published on Oct. 19 in the Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation.
“Patients can’t just take a prosthesis out of the box and start using it skillfully,” said Resnik, who directs a prosthetics research program at the new research center. “The upper limb is used to perform so many types of tasks. Patients need training to make the most of an upper-limb prosthesis. We need measures to let us know if our patients are improving the way that we expect them to.” The new metrics enable to the clinicians to grade patients’ performance, speed, and skill using any kind of prosthetic arm to do 18 everyday tasks, such as putting on and removing a shirt.