Julia’s dream: prosthetics for a better world

Christopher Neville, PT, PhD, and research assistant Julia Rogers in the Motion Analysis Lab at Upstate. They are reviewing files associated with Neville’s studies on the mechanical effects of flatfoot deformity. Photo by Susan Keeter

Christopher Neville, PhD, a physical therapist and associate professor of physical therapy education, and research assistant Julia Rogers in the Motion Analysis Lab at Upstate. They are reviewing files associated with Neville’s studies on the mechanical effects of flatfoot deformity. (PHOTOS BY SUSAN KEETER)

BY SUSAN KEETER

Julia Rogers’ dream is to design prosthetics for amputees.

As a high school student in Lagos, Nigeria, Rogers saw people who faced tremendous obstacles trying to meet their basic needs. “Dad would be driving me home from school, and our car would be swarmed by people who were missing limbs, blind, children barely able to walk,” she explains.  “They begged, ‘I am hurt; I need help.’ The only power they had was to use their disabilities to gain sympathy and a few coins from passers-by.

“In our world, we have so much technology, so much everything,” Rogers continues. “Nobody should live with anything less than what is possible.”

That belief led Rogers, a biomedical engineering student at Syracuse University, to look for experience using technology to develop orthotics and prosthetics for people with mobility disabilities. Orthotic devices support or brace a weak body part, such as a knee brace. Prosthetic devices replace or augment a missing or impaired body part, such as an artificial arm or leg.

She read about the research of Christopher Neville, PhD, and, via email, expressed interest in working with him in the Motion Analysis Lab at Upstate Medical University.

Neville, who is principal investigator for several clinical trials, responded to Rogers’ interest. “People working in this area often come through an engineering program,” he explains.  “It’s well worth it to give Julia the opportunity to see inside the world of prosthetics and orthotics. It’s a good way for her to see what she really likes.”

As a volunteer research assistant, Rogers is analyzing data from Neville’s clinical trial  titled “Kinematic and Kinetic Effects of Orthotic Devices for Subjects with Stage II Posterior Tibial Tendon Dysfunction.”

Julia Rogers holds an orthotic device used to help people with progressive flat foot.

Rogers holds an orthotic device used to help people with progressive flatfoot.

People suffering from posterior tibial tendon dysfunction, commonly known as progressive flatfoot,  wear ankle-foot orthoses, or corrective devices, to reduce pain and assist with daily function. The goal of Neville’s clinical trial is to test the clinical effectiveness of the braces and understand how they work.

During the testing completed in the Motion Lab, subjects were photographed wearing light-sensitive markers on their thighs, feet and lumbar areas while a camera recorded their movements. Using The MotionMonitor visualization software from a Chicago-based company (Innovative Sports Training Inc.), Neville is able to analyze the gait of the subject three-dimensionally and in motion.

To the average viewer, the images look much like those created by architects and cartoon animators using computer-assisted design software.

Rogers’ task is to help analyze the data collected when the subjects were recorded. She began with Excel spreadsheets, looking for common trends in the data. Once she gained an understanding of the data, Neville encouraged her to consider questions such as, “What is the data showing us? How are the foot and ankle braces working for the people in the study?”

This research experience is providing Rogers with a variety of opportunities, such as learning to use The MotionMonitor software and going to the Upstate Bone and Joint Center to observe the process of casting patients’ extremities to fit them for orthotic devices. Neville has also put her in touch with Hanger Clinic, a prosthetic and orthotic practice that works with Upstate’s Orthopedics Department.

“Biomedical engineering is hands-on, physical,” says Rogers as she considers the value of the work. “I’ll be able to have an impact on people’s lives.”

Three-dimensional model of the foot of a patient enrolled in a clinical trial on flat foot deformity. From the lab of Christopher Neville, PhD, Upstate Medical University. (Model generated with The Motion Monitor (Innsport Inc. Chicago, IL).

Three-dimensional model of the foot of a patient enrolled in the clinical trial on flatfoot deformity, from Neville’s lab at Upstate. (Model generated with The MotionMonitor, from Innsport Inc., Chicago, Ill.).

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About susankeeter

Occasional contributor Upstate’s Susan Keeter has written about and painted Upstate’s Dr. Sarah Loguen, one of the first African American women physicians. Keeter created the horse sculpture in front of the Upstate Golisano Children’s Hospital and illustrated a children’s book on autism, “Waiting for Benjamin.” She’s written for Physician Practice, Upstate Alumni Journal, Cancer Care and Upstate Health magazines. Reach her by email at keeters@upstate.edu or by phone at 315-464-4834.
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