Marquette University has been named a national Rehabilitation Engineering Research Center by the U.S. Department of Education and will receive nearly $5 million over the next five years to implement four research and four development projects aimed at addressing the needs of children with orthopaedic disabilities.
Gerald Harris, professor of biomedical engineering, is the principal investigator for the MU-RERC project, which will also involve other departments at Marquette, as well as the Department of Orthopaedic Surgery at the Medical College of Wisconsin, Shriners Hospital for Children in Chicago, the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago, the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and the Milwaukee School of Engineering.
“Everything we are undertaking is designed to have a direct impact on children, to improve their care, rehabilitation and quality of life,” Harris said. The intent of the grant is to transfer and commercialize the research to “offer new tools, better technologies and improved treatment strategies” for children with cerebral palsy, clubfoot, spina bifida, spinal cord injury, brittle bone disease (osteogenesis imperfecta) and other conditions that cause mobility and manipulation problems.
Harris, director of the Orthopaedic and Rehabilitation Engineering Center (OREC) at Marquette, has been working with these populations of children for more than 30 years.
“Some of the processes we use have never been definitively studied or applied to patients,” Harris said. “We want to design better devices and improved protocols that will help alert doctors, therapists, caregivers and family members of joint overload concerns. The intent is to have an impact in modifying activities and treatments in order to improve functional activities and quality of life.”
Those devices will include the development of an elliptical machine to improve neuromuscular control and stability in children. Other development projects are a novel pediatric robotic gait trainer; a biplanar (3-D) fluoroscopic imaging system that will allow researchers to see the internal motion of the bones inside the foot; and a customized orthotic (brace) based on sensor technologies to treat pediatric flat foot.
The research projects funded under the grant include:
• Gait analysis of children with OI and severe clubfoot deformity to determine strain on the femur and humerus in those using crutches in order to modify activities or design better devices to absorb forces (and thus prevent fractures) and to better direct surgeons so they are aware of high load areas.
• Using MRI and fMRI imaging for children with cerebral palsy to assess if there are changes in brain activity as a result of surgery or robotic-assisted rehabilitation of the arms and legs.
• Evaluation of home-based robot-guided therapy, combined with interactive game elements to keep children interested, and tele-assessment to determine effectiveness in maintaining mobility in children with cerebral palsy; and
• Mobility modeling of the upper and lower extremities (arms and legs) to determine the relationship between internal joint forces, assistive devices, ankle arthroeresis (implants) and longer-term tissue level effects as they relate to pain and function.
The technology transfer inherent in the grant is one of the focal points of the Clinical and Translational Science Institute, a partnership of all the major academic institutions in the region Marquette, MCW, UWM and MSOE, as well as Froedtert Memorial Lutheran Hospital, Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin, Zablocki VA Medical Center and Blood Center of Wisconsin. Formed in 2008, the institute recently received a $20 million grant from the National Institutes of Health to create an infrastructure for biomedical research in the Milwaukee region.
Harris said CTSI was helpful in the grant preparation and will be involved in the grant’s extensive training and dissemination activities, including development of a website to provide information for physicians, parents and children. “This is all about improving the quality of life for these children,” he said. A State of the Science Conference will be held in the fourth year of the grant.
The grant of $950,000 per year for five years, totaling $4.75 million, was awarded under the Rehabilitation Engineering Research Centers Program. It provides 87.8 percent of the program costs, with 12.2 percent or $659,274 funded through non-government sources.
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About Gerald Harris
Harris received his bachelor of science degree in Mechanical Engineering from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1971. After completing five years in the U.S. Marine Corps, he enrolled in the Biomedical Engineering program at Marquette University. In 1981, he completed his doctoral requirements in Biomedical Engineering at Marquette. Following this, from 1981 until 1987, he was director of biomechanical research at The Shriners Hospital in Chicago. While there, he developed a pediatric orthopaedic research laboratory that concentrated on the special needs of children with cerebral palsy and spinal cord injury.
In 1987, Harris joined the biomedical engineering faculty at Marquette University, where he has continued research with projects involving gait analysis, orthopaedic biomechanics, upper and lower extremity function, sensor development, bone remodeling, and studies of intramedullary bone rodding. In addition to being professor of biomedical engineering at Marquette and director of the Orthopaedic and Rehabilitation Center (OREC), he holds a joint appointment as director of research in the Department of Orthopadeic Surgery at the Medical College of Wisconsin.
He is active in a number of professional organizations, including the American Society for Biomechanics, Institute for Electrical and Electronics Engineering (IEEE), and Orthopaedic Research Society. He has served as the president of the IEEE Engineering in Medicine and Biology Society, North American Society for Gait and Clinical Motion Analysis, and is a Fellow of the American Academy for Cerebral Palsy and Development Medicine.
Harris has authored over 450 articles, short papers and book chapters and has given numerous presentations at scientific conferences. Dr. Harris has co-authored three books: Foot and Ankle Motion Analysis: Clinical Treatment and Technology published in 2008 by CRC Press, Boca Raton, FL, Pediatric Gait published in 2000 and Human Motion Analysis published in 1996 by IEEE Press, New York. He is co-author of a book on osteogenesis imperfecta which will be published by Shriners Press next year.
His research interests include orthopaedic biomechanics, rehabilitation engineering, and analysis of gait; measurement of human performance; mechanical design; and computerized data acquisition and analysis.