Participants needed for study on robotic rehab for multiple sclerosis

Brock University master’s student Kailynn Mannella demonstrates how to use her lab’s ‘wristbot,’ the only one of its kind in a Canadian university. Mannella is looking for people living with multiple sclerosis to be participants in a study examining if and how the wristbot could be an effective rehabilitation strategy. Brock University photo

Brock University press release – Kailynn Mannella’s dream is that one day every rehabilitation centre will have a robot delivering treatment to people living with multiple sclerosis (MS) and other conditions where the loss of limb function can severely impact daily life.

But not just any robot will do.

The Brock University master’s student is particularly keen about her lab’s ‘wristbot,’ a made-to-order haptic device used to study arm and wrist biomechanics and motor control.

The only one of its kind in a Canadian university, Brock University’s wristbot can be used as a therapy tool to strengthen forearm muscles and improve neural control of the hand.

Mannella wants to know if and how the wristbot could be an effective rehabilitation strategy for people living with MS and is calling for participants to get involved in this research.

“We’re looking for anyone living with multiple sclerosis with any level of the disease, who is experiencing some sort of disability with their upper arm,” she says.

Participants in the study undergo three, 35-minute sessions each week for six weeks. During the sessions, participants will be asked to trace an image with their hand using the wristbot. It is similar to a video game, but the robot adapts to the individual’s performance, providing assistance when needed.

“We’re trying to get as many people involved in the study as we can,” says Mannella. “If people are in remission, we’ll still accept them.”

The research team will evaluate biomechanical and functional changes throughout the weeks of training. These include wrist and grip strength, muscle activation and coordination.

Rehabilitation robotics is becoming a widely studied and adopted form of therapy. It allows for the delivery of a high dosage of exercise that can lead to strengthening and overall improvement in upper limb function.

“The goal of the research is to improve hand functionality through the creation of a progressive training program — through the use of a robotic device — that would strengthen the forearm and wrist of people living with MS,” says Mannella.

Mannella’s supervisor is Associate Professor of Kinesiology Michael Holmes, Canada Research Chair in Neuromuscular Mechanics and Ergonomics. He examines how the brain and nervous system generates muscle activity to coordinate complex hand movements.

“To date, our work has focused on understanding hand and upper extremity function in healthy individuals,” says Holmes. “I always envisioned the wristbot would one day be used in populations with neurological impairments and Kailynn has been the driving force behind this happening. Her passion to improve the lives of people living with MS has led to this very important work.”

The focus on MS is particularly relevant for Canadians. A 2018 Statistics Canada report says the prevalence of MS among Canadians may be one of the highest in the world.

Participants of all ages are needed, and travel and parking costs will be reimbursed.

Those wishing to participate in the study should contact Kailynn Mannella at km14ta@brocku.ca

The wristbot used in the study was built by the Robotics, Brain and Cognitive Sciences research team at the Italian Institute of Technology (IIT). Resembling a joystick, the wristbot allows Holmes’ team to examine how the forearm muscles control the hand, especially when encountering resistance and sudden, unexpected disturbances.

This research, and the wristbot, are part of Holmes’ Neuromechanics and Ergonomics Lab. Funded by the Canada Foundation for Innovation, the lab features more than $150,000 in state-of-the-art biomechanics, neurophysiology and ergonomics equipment including motion capture cameras, robotics, brain stimulation and electromyography.