The National Institute on Disability, Independent Living and Rehabilitation Research (NIDILRR) has awarded postdoctoral bioengineer Xuan Liu a $70,000 Switzer Research Fellowship for mobility research in cerebral palsy (CP).
The merit award will fund “Biofeedback gait retraining for stiff knee correction: Multi-joint adaptation in children with cerebral palsy,” a collaborative investigation by the Children’s Specialized Hospital (CSH) and the Kessler Foundation’s Center for Mobility and Rehabilitation Engineering Research. Liu is a CSH-Kessler Foundation postdoctoral fellow.
The study focuses on young CP patients with stiff knee gait, inadequate swing knee flexion that causes foot dragging and tripping during walking because of reduced toe clearance. Finding ways to correct common abnormal gait patterns is important to these children’s ability to advance developmentally and function independently.
The scientists will test two kinds of biofeedback gait training — one with feedback exclusively on the knee, and the other with sequential feedback on the knee and hip.
“Comparing the results of the two types of training in correcting stiff knee gait will help us to understand multi-joint adaptation in children with cerebral palsy. There is evidence for efficacy of the biofeedback intervention,” Liu said in a news release, referring to a Kessler and CSH pilot study on CP patients ages 7–17. “Moreover, the training could be delivered at a relatively low cost with this biofeedback system, which has the advantage of portability.”
Liu, who received her PhD from the Hong Kong Polytechnic University, is the tenth investigator from the foundation’s postdoctoral fellowship training program to get a Switzer award, and the first to be funded for research in children with disabilities. She is also an affiliated research assistant professor in the Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School.
Switzer Merit Fellowships are awarded to early-career scientists who have either advanced professional training or experience in independent study in an area directly related to disability and rehabilitation. The NIDILRR is the U.S. government’s primary disability research agency.
“With this Switzer Fellowship Award, NIDILRR recognizes the need for pediatric research aimed at improving the lives of children whose mobility is limited by gait abnormalities,” said Michael Dribbon, PhD, CSH vice president of business development & chief innovation, and research officer. “Understanding multi-joint adaptations is an important step toward more effective protocols for gait retraining for children with different motor deficits.”
The nonprofit Kessler Foundation is a global leader in rehabilitation research. Through translational research and assistive technology development, its Center for Mobility and Rehabilitation Engineering Research seeks to enhance the quality of life for those with motor disabilities.
”Once again, our training program has been recognized for excellence in rehabilitation research,” said John DeLuca, PhD, the foundation’s senior vice president of research and training. “Dr. Liu has joined a select group of former Kessler fellows who built upon this early recognition of their talents to launch successful careers in rehabilitation research.”
A group of disorders that affect a person’s ability to move and maintain posture, cerebral palsy is the most common cause of childhood motor disability. In the United States, CP affects roughly three live births of every 1,000.