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Annual Report 2016

Improving the future for amputees

University of New Brunswick researcher Jon Sensinger is part of a research team that won a $2.5 million contract from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.

The agency, which advances research for the U.S. Department of Defence, awarded the contract through its Hand Proprioception and Touch Interfaces program, which aims to deliver naturalistic sensations to amputees, and enable better control over their prosthetic limbs through direct connections to users’ nervous systems.

The research team intends to develop a suite of outcome metrics for advanced prosthetic limbs that are clinically relevant and rooted in cutting-edge science. These metrics could potentially change the way that prosthetic devices are currently evaluated.

Prosthetic limb technology has undergone significant advancements in recent years, but there is currently no standardized set of metrics to evaluate these technologies.

“We hope this will be a major catalyst in compelling several large industries to establish research programs in New Brunswick to evaluate and improve their industries using these approaches, as well as furthering existing industrial collaborations with groups such as B-Temia’s Centre for Research in Dermoskeletics,” says Dr. Sensinger.

A world-leading institute

The Quebec firm B-Temia chose New Brunswick as a place to open the world’s first dermoskeletics lab. Dermoskeletics is truly leading-edge science – wearable robotics to help people with mobility problems move. In funding researchers at UNB, the lab is pursuing technology which can sense how the user is about to move in order to assist in the best ways possible to restore mobility.

Key to establishing the lab was UNB’s Institute for Biomedical Engineering, an internationally renowned prosthetics institute for which Dr. Sensinger is the associate director.

In the first 18-month phase of the agency project, the team has developed a set of outcome measures that are particularly well suited for prostheses that directly connect to users’ nervous systems.

Dr. Sensinger says the funding will allow the team to formulate outcome measures not only in terms of the task, but in terms of the capabilities of the person’s body and brain.

The grant has been renewed for the second phase.

The research team is being led by Dr. Paul Marasco of Cleveland Clinic Lerner Research Institute, Lerner Research Institute’s Department of Biomedical Engineering and the Louis Stokes Cleveland VA Medical Center. Dr. Jacqueline Hebert, of the University of Alberta, is also a key leader on the research team along with Dr. Sensinger.