Rancho reaches forefront of a technology revolution

DOWNEY - When Mindy Aisen, MD came to Rancho Los Amigos National Rehabilitation Center in 2009, she set a goal to lead Rancho to technological supremacy in the rehabilitation world. Last weekend's International Transformational Technology Summit 3 at Rancho showcased a dazzling array of robotics technologies and groundbreaking new projects that have put Rancho at the forefront of a rehabilitation technology revolution.

"When I arrived at Rancho, I could have only dreamed of such dramatic progress in such a short period of time," Dr. Aisen said. "In fact, we have gone from zero robots on the Rancho campus to having shoulder, elbow and a new wrist robot, Re-walk exoskeleton robots, and a National Institutes for Health grant to study robotic rehabilitation in conjunction with partners at Riley hospital in Indianapolis and Blythedale Childrens Hospital in New York."

Another major step forward for Rancho was recapturing the prestigious Spinal Cord Injury Model Systems designation from the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research (NIDRR). This was accomplished largely due to creative and high-tech collaborations with the USC Viterbi School of Engineering in the areas of pathokinesiology and rehab engineering.

"Now we are embarking on a journey to create the definitive Robotic Rehabilitation Center, right here in Downey" she said. "We anticipate that by the close of 2013 we'll have acquired a number of additional state-of-the-art robots including the ankle-bot, interactive body weight supported walking robots for children and adults and hand robots that will give us the most comprehensive robotics capability in the rehabilitation world."

Rancho's third Technology Summit, entitled "Robotics in Rehabiliation: The Future is Now," brought many leading scientists to Rancho to discuss methods of building technological bridges to the future of Rehabilitation Medicine. Highlights from selected conference speakers, in Dr. Aisen's own words, include:

Carolee Winstein,PhD, PT, FAPTA of USC: "Dr. Winstein is one of the world's great Rehabilitation researchers. She validated concepts about the potential for neurological recovery when sufficient and appropriate specific rehabilitation opportunities are offered to patients."

Goffer of Argo Medical in Israel: "Amit is a tetraplegic who invented the ReWalk exoskeleton robot. He spoke about the revolutionizing effect this device has had on allowing complete paraplegics to walk again, as well as the research that is necessary to find out how the brain adapts to re-walking. We are also researching the impacts on bone, muscle, bowel, bladder and skin integrity, which are critical aspects of health for individuals with spinal cord injuries."

Dr. Dylan Edwards of Burke/Cornell Weill Medical School in New York: "Dr. Edwards, who is director of spinal cord injury research at Burke, is a very thoughtful and creative researcher who often evaluates the effectiveness of bringing multiple technologies to bear on a medical issue. He currently is interested in researching new approaches to combining advanced technologies such as trans-cranial magnetic stimulation, peripheral neuromuscular stimulation and robotics to promote recovery."

Dr. Charles Liu of USC and Rancho: "Dr. Liu discussed the impact that neurosurgery and technology have had in curing epilepsy and the ways that such techniques are leading to an important role for neurosurgery in rehabilitation and neurological restoration. These will include brain/computer interface for brain stimulation (for pain, Parkinson's disease and epilepsy) and brain recording (to control environments and robotics). Obviously, Dr. Liu's thinking is very cutting-edge."

Dr. Ted Berger of USC: "Dr. Berger spoke about his work with nano technology brain implants for enhancing memory and restoring neurological function. His exciting discoveries about the brain make him a perfect person to work on our new brain/computer interface project,"

DARPA: "Representatives from DARPA, the Federal Agency supporting new efforts at Rancho in concert with Caltech and USC, praised all three teams including Dr. Richard Andersen and his team at Caltech, Drs. Ted Berger, Charles Liu and Christi Heck at USC and our team at Rancho. He said DARPA is impressed with our highly collaborative and energetic approach. He also indicated that Rancho's ability to recruit patient partners to try these new restorative technologies is a testament to the hospital's long-term commitment to patients, their feeling of trust and Rancho's true family atmosphere."

Dr. Aisen said that robotics and the new neurosurgical brain/computer interface project at Rancho represent a dream come true for her, and a new technological frontier in the illustrious 125-year history of Rancho.

"Next we need advanced imaging, namely a functional MRI, so we can study the impacts of intensive new rehab strategies on the brain as people improve," Dr. Aisen said.

"Rehabilitation has now been recognized as a critical backbone of all medical practice," she added. "Today we speak about disability in many ways-growing up with a disability, growing old with a disability, aging into disability, living a long, healthful high-quality life with a disability....but none of these mean being defined by a disability."

"Rancho is helping to define this important discussion," Dr. Aisen said. "We are again at the center of the Rehabilitation universe. As we look forward in time, we realize that at Rancho, the future is now."

********** Published: February 28, 2013 - Volume 11 - Issue 46