World leaders in health, science gather at Rancho

DOWNEY - Rancho Los Amigos National Rehabilitation Center brought together world leaders in rehabilitation medicine and advanced technologies such as virtual reality, robotics and brain/computer interfaces in a three-day International Transformational Technology Summit that was held Sept. 2-4 at Rancho."We created this first-of-its kind Summit to promote collaboration among research, industrial and clinical leaders in finding new solutions to improving clinical care for the rapidly increasing population of individuals with disabilities," said Rancho Chief Medical Officer Mindy Aisen, MD, who chaired the landmark event. "Rehabilitation care is facing new opportunities and challenges that demand revolutionary approaches," Dr. Aisen continued. "The time has come to rewrite the future for people with neurological damage, whether it has occurred in childhood or adulthood. That's why we wanted to begin a dialogue among the leaders in our field to advance creative rehabilitation strategies for the 21st Century and beyond." Since Rancho works with more than 10,000 patients with disabilities, more than any hospital in the Western U.S., these technology advances are of vital importance to Rancho and its patients. "Rancho will be a testbed for many of these advances, whether in clinical trials or clinical practice," Dr. Aisen said. "Advancing the art and science of rehabilitation medicine is keeping Rancho among the world's best rehabilitation facilities." The conference featured speakers from as far away as Israel, Switzerland and the Netherlands; from major universities such as MIT, Harvard, Brown, Cornell, UCLA and USC; and from key governmental funding organizations such as the National Institutes of Health, National Science Foundation, Department of Veterans Affairs and the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research. Electrifying computer/brain interface presentation One of the highlights of the conference was an electrifying presentation by Dr. Leigh Hochberg of Harvard, Brown and the Providence VA Medical Center. Dr. Hochberg showed recent videos of his revolutionary BrainGate research project, which for the first time enables individuals who can't move or speak to operate a computer and perform other tasks solely through their thoughts. This is accomplished by implanting a tiny sensor in the motor cortex, the part of the brain that controls movement. The sensor picks up brain signals, which are sent to an external decoder that turns them into commands for electronic or robotic devices. "The focus now, for people with spinal cord injury, stroke, ALS, and other diseases or injuries of the nervous system, is to be able to restore movement and communication," Dr. Hochberg said. "Many people have been captivated by the potential of this technology, but we're really at the beginning of a tremendous period of learning and opportunity in terms of restoring lost function for individuals with paralysis or limb loss." Another conference focal point was the discussion of advanced robotics, which included presentations by three giants of robotics, Dr. Hermano Igo Krebs of MIT and Cornell, Dr. Maja Mataric of USC and Dr. Barbara Giesser of UCLA. "We have made major advances in robots over the last two decades." Dr. Krebs said. "Our studies have clearly shown that patients with cerebral palsy and stroke can greatly benefit from robotic therapy. For example, the shoulder robot we developed that is now being used at Rancho helps patients reduce impairment and improve the smoothness and speed of their reaching motions." This robot will be the focus of a three-hospital clinical trial that will include Rancho, the only hospital in the Western U.S. with this state-of-the-art technological marvel. "We are already seeing remarkable progress in our patients who are using this robot," said Rancho Chief of Pediatrics Luis Montes, MD. "It is just one example of the power of technology to improve outcomes for our patients." Dr. Mataric of the Viterbi School of Engineering at USC discussed her trailblazing work in socially assistive robotics. "We are in the process of developing robots that will work with and for people in hospitals, senior care centers and eventually even homes," she said. "Socially assistive robots are now capable of monitoring, coaching and motivating prescribed exercise therapy for stroke patients. To be effective long-term, the socially assistive robot must remain appealing as well as effective over a long time period, whether it be months in stroke rehabilitation, years in special education, or potentially, life-long." Teaming in Israel, Jordan and the Palestinian territories Another compelling presentation was made by Dr. Simona Bar-Haim of Ben-Gurion University, who runs the Human Motion Analysis Laboratory at the Assaf-Harofeh Medical Center in Zerifin, Israel. Dr. Bar-Haim has gained worldwide acclaim for her pioneering work in rehabilitation not just in Israel, but in partnerships with researchers and clinicians in Jordan and the Palestinian Territories. "We have found that we can improve motor behaviors based on the implementation of chaos therapy," she said. "One example is the way you reach for a cup of coffee. There are many ways you could do it, including using your right hand or left hand and whether you sip it or drink more rapidly. Basically your motor functions have freedom in the way they perform tasks. We have found that since the brain works in a chaotic way when a person is healthy, you can achieve maximum results by challenging him an a chaotic way in rehabilitation to bring his brain back to its normal healthy state. We have seen tremendous improvement in patients where no other clinical intervention has worked." Major international honor for John Hsu, MD A major award was also presented at the Summit, The Cerebral Palsy International Research Foundation's the Isabelle and Leonard H. Goldenson Technology and Rehabilitation Award. It was presented to longtime Rancho physician John Hsu, MD by Glenn Tringali, the CEO of the CPIRF, at the conference. Although Dr. Hsu retired nearly a decade ago, he still regularly assists Rancho's Pediatrics patients. "This puts an exclamation point on my career," Dr. Hsu said. I'm thankful to the CPIRF, but also to all my Rancho colleagues who have encouraged my research and work in the clinics and made my life so interesting and meaningful for all these years." Other key conference presentations were given by Drs. Gerald Loeb and Carolee Winstein of USC, Dr. Bruce Dobkin of UCLA, Dr. Stefan Bircher of Hocoma (Switzerland), Dr. Frans Steenbring of Motek (The Netherlands) Dr. Keith McBride of Bioness (Valencia, CA), and Charles Remsberg of Tibion (Sunnyvale, CA). Special breakfast and dinner speaker sessions were held at the H.O.M.E. project, courtesy of The Assistance League of Downey. The conference was funded by the Los Amigos Research and Education Institute, the Cerebral Palsy International Research Foundation and the Rancho Los Amigos Foundation. Panel of leading research funders The conference also featured a panel discussion of funding priorities and opportunities from leading research funders from the federal government, including Dr. Ralph Nitkin of the National Institutes of Health, Dr. Margaret Campbell of the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research, Dr. Patricia Dorn of the Department of Veterans Affairs, and Dr. Ted Conway of the National Science Foundation. They discussed emerging funding opportunities for research in Rehabilitation Medicine and funding priorities for the future. "I believe this is the first time our four organizations have been together in a presentation outside of Washington, D.C.", Dr. Conway said. "We are very thankful to Rancho for convening this gathering of technology leaders, where we were exposed to so much cutting-edge technology that can be applied to improving the lives of patients with disabilities." "We are tremendously pleased with the results of our Technology Summit," Dr. Aisen said. "We will spend the next year continuing this fascinating dialogue so that we will have an even more illuminating conference in 2011."

********** Published: September 16, 2010 - Volume 9 - Issue 22