Active Research Projects

Our research participants are partners in our mission to advance new rehabilitation interventions and technologies. If you or someone you know is interested in being a research participant, let us know at GaitLab@BU.edu!


Robotic Exosuit Augmented Locomotion (REAL) gait training

Soft robotic exosuits are capable of improving post-stroke walking patterns when they are worn and powered on. We believe that these immediate gait benefits can be leveraged during gait rehabilitation to facilitate durable, long-standing therapeutic improvements in both the speed and quality of post-stroke walking. To this end, we are developing a standardized Robotic Exosuit Augmented Locomotion (REAL) gait training program centered on our team’s understanding of human-exosuit interaction and contemporary motor learning concepts. This project is currently in early consideration-of-concept and demonstration-of-concept phases.

Learn more about the REAL gait training project.

Walking to the beat of recovery: A music-based digital therapeutic

We are studying a music-based digital therapeutic platform designed to leverage wearable movement sensor data to personalize a rhythm-based gait retraining program for patients with neuromotor impairments. When listening to music while walking, humans naturally change their cadence to match the beat. The music-based digital therapeutic that we are studying can systematically alter the beat of popular songs (while preserving high sound quality) to help users change their cadence, and ultimately their speed. If the user struggles to match the beat, automatic rhythm-assist algorithms kick in that fine-tune the musical tempo to better match the user’s abilities and provide a metronome overlay, if necessary. Early findings from our laboratory have shown that this music-based digital therapeutic can automate a progressive and individualized rhythm-based walking training program that increases walking speed and decreases the energy cost of walking after stroke.

Learn more about the music-based digital therapeutic project.

reNeu: A soft, hybrid robotic exosuit neuroprosthesis

In stroke survivors with hemiparesis, though their muscles retain force-generating capability, the neuromuscular pathways that control the communication between the brain and muscles are disrupted. Although these pathways often retain the basic potential to be activated, many patients cannot effectively access them during their usual rehabilitation therapies. We are developing a multi-channel Functional Electrical Stimulation (FES) neuroprosthesis that uses low-energy electrical pulses in combination with sensor technology and adaptive gait algorithms to provide individualized lower extremity assistance during walking after stroke. We are also working to integrate this FES technology with soft robotic exosuit technology to create new synergistic hybrid assistance and rehabilitation systems for gait rehabilitation.

Learn more about the reNeu project.

Biosensors for point-of-care locomotor propulsion diagnostics

Walking requires the coordination of three locomotor subtasks–propulsion, limb advancement, and bodyweight support. In many neurologic diagnostic groups, a propulsion deficit exists where one or both limbs are unable to generate adequate propulsion forces during walking, with major clinical, biomechanical, and physiological consequences. Improving locomotor propulsion is a key target of the rehabilitation technologies and interventions that are being developed by our research team and others; however, most clinicians do not have access to the tools needed to measure and manage propulsion deficits. The clinical management of locomotor propulsion deficits will remain untenable without the advance of clinically-accessible propulsion diagnostic systems. In response to this need, our team is developing novel sensor algorithms that use data collected from small, cheap, and unobtrusive inertial measurement units to accurately estimate locomotor ground reaction forces outside of the laboratory.

Learn more about the propulsion diagnostics project.

Neuromotor control after stroke: Understanding neuromechanical contributors to propulsion deficits

The plantarflexor muscles are the primary generators of propulsive force during walking. Post-stroke plantarflexor weakness may be the result of a reduced strength capacity (e.g., reduced physiological cross-sectional area due to muscle atrophy), reduced central neural drive, or a combination of these deficits. For individual patients, assessing each of these potential deficits is necessary to inform clinical decisions. A promising diagnostic approach to elucidate the extent and mechanisms underlying post-stroke plantarflexor muscle weakness combines dynamometry with supramaximal electrostimulation. Indeed, the maximum voluntary plantarflexor force that many community-dwelling individuals post-stroke are able to generate is only a fraction of their plantarflexor force-generating capacity. Our team has shown that the magnitude of this latent capacity (i.e., the central drive deficit) is a key explanatory factor of post-stroke propulsion impairments. Unfortunately, the diagnostic systems currently used for neuromuscular function testing require substantial time to set up and execute, as well as costly and large equipment not widely available in clinical settings. Together, these factors motivate the development of novel point-of-care plantarflexor force measurement systems.