Children with cerebral palsy to benefit from $2.1 million grant awarded to mechanical engineer

Children with cerebral palsy (CP) will be benefiting greatly as a new $2.1 million grant has been awarded to mechanical engineer and inventor Zach Lerner who is an assistant professor in Northern Arizona University’s Department of Mechanical Engineering.

Through this funding, Lerner will be launching a major, five-year clinical trial to test a treatment strategy for children with cerebral palsy (CP) using his patented and patent-pending inventions comprising a lightweight, wearable robotic device that provides neuromuscular training while making walking easier.

For the past five years Lerner has been developing an adaptive ankle exoskeleton device that offers a lightweight, portable and effective way to improve mobility in children with CP. Technological evaluations and the initial clinical feasibility and pilot studies necessary to collect the preliminary data for this randomized controlled trial (RCT) have already been collected.

Study to establish fundamental knowledge, guidance for clinical and at-home treatment

A child’s ability to walk effectively is essential to physical health and general well-being. Nearly 4 in 1,000 children are afflicted with CP, a neurological disorder that affects muscle control and coordination and often makes walking extremely difficult. Although most treatment strategies have proven insufficient, one of the most promising potential new treatment options is the use of battery-powered wearable robots, or exoskeletons, that provide home-based gait training and mobility assistance. These devices have the potential to revolutionize rehabilitation of patients with neuromuscular deficiencies, significantly decreasing their lifelong suffering and the resulting economic burdens placed on their families.

“There is broad clinical consensus that dysfunction of the plantar flexors, or calf muscles, is a primary contributor to slow, inefficient and crouched walking patterns in individuals with CP,” Lerner said. “Our study will focus on two hypotheses: that targeted ankle resistance training will produce larger improvements in lower-extremity motor control, gait mechanics and clinical measures of mobility compared to standard physical therapy and standard gait training, and that adaptive ankle assistance will result in significantly greater capacity and performance compared to walking with ankle foot orthoses and walking wearing just shoes.”

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