A University of Colorado Boulder physiology laboratory conducting research to improve locomotion for lower limb amputees, including military service veterans, is being featured nationally as part of 2014 Veterans Affairs Research Week May 19-23.
CU-Boulder Assistant Professor Alena Grabowski and her research team are working with the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Department of Defense on several projects, including one on improving electrically powered ankle-foot prostheses and another on helping to improve running-specific leg prostheses. National VA Research Week is designed to call attention to the achievements of VA researchers and the role they play in providing high-quality care for veterans and advancing medical science.
CU-Boulder’s Applied Biomechanics Lab, a VA-approved facility run by Grabowski within the Denver VA Eastern Colorado Healthcare System, conducts research to understand the implementation and effects of powered and passive leg prostheses. The national poster for VA Research Week May 19-23 features a veteran running across the CU-Boulder campus wearing a running-specific leg prosthesis as he warms up for a study in Grabowski’s lab on how running-specific prostheses affect sprint performance.
“The ability to walk and run should never be taken for granted,” said Grabowski. “It is extremely satisfying to witness and help veterans with leg amputations regain their ability to walk and run through the implementation of prosthetic devices.”
For the first time in history, people with lower limb amputations have regained near-normal function during level walking due to the development of a powered, ankle-foot prosthesis, said Grabowski, a faculty member in CU-Boulder’s integrative physiology department. Her team is conducting the VA research with a unique prosthesis called the BiOM, developed by Personal Bionics in Bedford, Mass., which helps restore natural gait, balance and speed, and lowers joint stress.
“With the increasing number of veterans with leg amputations, there is a heightened demand for advanced prostheses,” said Grabowski. “One of our goals is to characterize ankle-joint function during walking and running on slopes in order to further develop advanced, powered ankle-foot prostheses.”
Grabowski’s DOD project involves the analysis and development of running-specific prostheses for active people, including veterans, with below-the-knee amputations. The team is varying the stiffness and height of the devices and measuring the biomechanical and performance effects during running across a range of speeds using a special treadmill in her lab. “We hope to improve and expedite rehabilitation for soldiers and veterans with lower leg amputations, which would save time, money and resources.”
Improving such devices could cut down on health-care costs and allow soldiers and veterans with amputations to regain the greatest possible function – even to return to active duty if they so desire, she said. “We intend to develop a set of guidelines for prescribing the stiffness and height of running-specific leg prostheses so that people with amputations can attain their best performance.”
Grabowski’s research team includes both graduate and undergraduate students as well as doctoral students and postdoctoral fellows. “My students provide an enormous contribution to my research,” said Grabowski. “Their creative energy is infectious and they offer important insight into research development and implementation.”
Grabowski’s Applied Biomechanics Lab, which includes about a dozen people, is funded in part by a five-year Career Development Award to her from the Department of Veterans Affairs Rehabilitation, Research and Development Service. The VA allocated funds for Grabowski to establish a state-of-the-art gait laboratory that includes a dual-belt treadmill, a high-speed treadmill, an eight-camera motion analysis system, sophisticated metabolic analysis machines and two powered ankle-foot prostheses and more than 60 running-specific prostheses.
She also is funded by the DOD’s Congressionally Directed Medical Research Programs.
“We believe our research will improve advanced leg prostheses for walking and running, facilitating the reintegration of veterans with amputations in all facets of civilian life.”
To watch short videos on research taking place in Grabowski’s lab go to http://spot.colorado.edu/~grabowsa/Homepage/Homepage.html. To visit the Grabowski lab page go to http://www.colorado.edu/intphys/research/appliedbiomechanics.html. For more information on CU-Boulder’s integrative physiology department go to http://www.colorado.edu/intphys/.
Grabowski collaborates with a number of institutions on her research, including MIT, Brown University, The Orthopedic Specialty Hospital in Murray, Utah, and Colorado School of Mines.
The Veterans Health Administration is America’s largest integrated health care system with more than 1,700 sites of care serving 8.76 million military veterans each year. To visit the National VA Research Week website go to: http://www.research.va.gov/researchweek/default.cfm