Dr. Lara Thompson is the director of UDC’s biomedical engineering (BME) program and the Center for Biomechanical & Rehabilitation Engineering (CBRE) lab. She received a $300,000 research initiation grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to study how to improve balance of individuals 60 to 80 years old, including chronic stroke survivors. Thompson tells Forest Hills Connection that she is excited about this project, which could lead to new knowledge on rehabilitating aging individuals, improving their balance, and thus reducing injury due to falls.
Thompson joined the UDC School of Engineering and Applied Sciences and started the BME program in 2014 after receiving her doctorate from the Harvard-MIT Division of Health Sciences and Technology. A $400,000 NSF grant in 2015 led to new BME courses and activities. She has been awarded close to $2 million in grant money to further the educational and research capacity of this program.
Assisting Thompson are research assistants: seven undergraduate students and two graduate students. Her first graduate student in the CBRE lab, Marzieh Savadkoohi, holds Master’s degree in physics and is among the first cohort of Ph.D. students at UDC which entered in Fall 2018.
Last year, Thompson, along with other research assistants, worked with about 30 mature, healthy individuals and found balance improvements by the end of their training regimen. Thompson and her students are currently working with seven stroke participants. They need an additional 20 to 30 individuals, 60 to 80 years of age, who are at least six months out in recovery from a stroke and able to walk without assistance or with a cane or walker. Participation requires a time commitment of 30 minutes to an hour per training session, and these take place two to three times a week for six to seven weeks. At the end of the training regimen, each participant receives $100.
The study is comparing two modes of training to improve balance. One is the use of a NaviGAITor, which is a harness attached to the ceiling frame that moves along with the participant as he or she goes through a series of exercises.
The other is the use of light touch by the participant of people or objects around them. In both, the sensory input varies, from the type of walking surface (hard to soft) to sight and no sight. Stance varies as well. The researchers measure the individual’s ability to process the various sensory inputs and the impact on balance.
Watch Thompson and her students at work in this National Science Foundation video.
Please contact Lara Thompson at firstname.lastname@example.org by March 20th if you are interested in participating or have questions.