Restoring balance function


Our Research

Non-Invasive Interfacing of Touch Sensors to Restore Tactile Sensation in Amputees

The dexterity of the human hand in object manipulation is unparalleled in the natural world. This dexterity is facilitated by an array of receptors embedded within the skin of each fingertip that provide information about the tactile world and informs the motor-control system. The loss of a hand or arm is a devastating event, and the aim of our new project is to develop a non-invasive prosthetic system that can provide sensory feedback in amputees to help guide movement of a prosthetic hand.

A new mouse model that determines the effects of a unilateral vestibular prosthesis on vestibular plasticity.

Much like a cochlear implant restores auditory function, a vestibular prosthesis restores balance function. It is not clear whether the limited results from vestibular prostheses is due the device not stimulating one component (the otoliths) of the vestibular system essential for self-repair. We will test mutant mice that lack otoliths to determine the importance of stimulating the otoliths in restoring function. This work will shape the future direction of prosthesis development.

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Abdominal muscle stimulation to improve bowel function in spinal cord injury

Bowel complications, resulting from impaired bowel function, are common for people living with a spinal cord injury (SCI). As a result, people with a SCI have high rates of bowel related illness, even compared with those with other neurological disorders. This includes high rates of abdominal pain, constipation, faecal incontinence and bloating. These problems lower the quality of life of people with a SCI and place a financial burden on the health system. A treatment that improves bowel function for people with a SCI should reduce illness, improve quality of life and lead to a large cost saving for health care providers. Bowel problems have traditionally been managed with manual and pharmacological interventions, such as digital rectal stimulation, enemas, and suppositories. These solutions are usually only partially effective, highlighting the need for improved interventions. The abdominal muscles are one of the major muscle groups used during defecation. Training the abdominal muscles should improve bowel function by increasing abdominal pressure. During our previous Abdominal FES research with people with a SCI, we observed that Abdominal FES appeared to lead to more consistent and effective bowel motion. However, this evidence remains anecdotal. As such, we are going to undertake a large randomised controlled trial to investigate the effectiveness of Abdominal FES to improve the bowel function of people with a SCI. This study will make use of a novel measurement system (SmartPill, Medtronic) that can be swallowed to measure whole gut and colonic transit time. We will also assess whether Abdominal FES can change constipation-related quality of life and the use of laxatives and manual procedures, as well as the frequency of defecation and the time taken. A positive outcome from this study is likely to lead to the rapid clinical translation of this technology for people living with a SCI.