By Samantha Amaro | Reporter
Baylor’s School of Engineering and Computer Science does more than work on machines and buildings. Some work to rebuild parts of the human body. A branch of the mechanical engineering program is the Biomedical Experimentation, Design and Simulation, where they are taking leaps the field of orthopedics and rehabilitation issues and research.
The research lab is located at the Baylor Research and Innovation Collaborative and is loaded with six to seven active, ongoing projects. Proof of this research is shown upon opening the door, where a row of running shoes that belong to a graduate student’s project are visible. Along with this, sits a project created by Dr. Brian Garner, an associate professor in mechanical engineering, resembling a horse saddle. The horse saddle mechanism’s purpose is to help epileptic patients learn natural functions. The saddle is meant to replicate the movements of a real horse and is meant for to be used by those living in places that horses are not easy to come by — such as those living in the city or in poverty-stricken countries.
Dr. Jonathan Rylander is an assistant professor in mechanical engineering and the faculty member in charge of the Motion Capture Lab. A mechanical engineer by trade, he wanted to work with people in a more clinical capacity, like working with wounded soldiers. He was visibly excited as he explained all that the lab could accomplish, and all the unique tools available. One focus in the research is physical therapy.
“There’s a very well-verified stat where people just don’t comply to at-home therapy,” Rylander said. “They just don’t do it.”
Rylander is working on several projects in collaboration with many other doctors. The projects all share a common goal— to find out whether current treatments used in rehabilitation are actually being proven useful or if there are other, better treatments that can be explored. There are even projects about whether the Wii Kinect could be used in rehab through the use of games.
Physical therapy is a very common rehabilitation method in America, where tens of thousands of people must undergo a kind of rehabilitation therapy for anything ranging from a stroke to an arm injury. Exergaming, which uses technology to track body movement, was one research project in the Motion Capture Lab. The researchers use a Kinect console to see if they could be used to track the movements and complete rehabilitation through the use of games. Through the use of the lab, they are able to conduct validating testing on whether using games could be a new form of at-home therapy.
“What we want to do is quantify what motions are being done in some of those games to see if its an effective use for, say, rotator cuff surgery,” Rylander said.
The lab, packed with projects, sported other cool gizmos. From motion capture, the likes of which have been seen on movie sets for sci-fi blockbusters, to pressure-activated mats that measure where on the human body the applied pressure is coming from on the human body, the lab is fitted out with systems set to recreate the structure and movements of the human body with lines and dots on a television screen.
“One of the things that you can do with these cameras that we don’t do is animation,” Rylander said. “This exact system is used on a lot of different movies like ‘Paddington Bear’; and ‘Sid the Science Kid’ is done with these cameras exactly.”
Waco graduate student Jenny Tavares is one of the students using these labs for research. Her project is working on stress fractures and how different types of shoes affect the way people run.
She had planned her thesis around another research project, focused on two different kinds of knee replacements, uncemented or cemented. Participants were scarce for this study, so she was prompted to think of another research idea. Having been a runner for the past 10 years, she reached out to the track team.
“It was really a chance for me to kind of explore different options,” Tavares said. “It was built off a recommendation from the track team.”
Combining her research and her personal interests was great, Tavares said. Her project ran with five running conditions — presented in the kind of shoe the participant would wear during the experiment, which involved running on a treadmill.
This project began in May, and as it progressed, Tavares managed to get 24 participants to take part in the study within a month and a half. After cleaning the data and working to analyze it to find the results, Tavares is now in the process of writing her thesis.