Research aids coughing

Wednesday, 13 April, 2005

UTS Professor Ashley Craig is involved in a project in the NSW Premier's spinal chord injury (SCI) research program to develop an electrical stimulus to help quadriplegics cough.

The project forms part of a major research program to improve mobility, independence and quality of life for those living with (SCI), conducted with eight other leading Australian researchers.

Craig, who with Paul McIsaac discovered that a brain signal could be used as a switch in 1994, led a team in the development of technology known as the Mind Switch to harness the signal so that paraplegics could use it to operate electrical appliances just by closing their eyes.

"Pneumonia is one of the biggest killers of quadriplegics because they can't cough. We'll develop a strategy to use the Mind Switch to trigger a cough. We'll also collaborate with other teams working on balance problems when sitting, lower limb mobility and exercise, and hand function."

Craig says that after suffering spinal cord injury, the brain reorganises to focus attention on undamaged functions. "However when a prosthetic arm or leg is fitted and exercised the brain seems to think 'my arm or leg is back' so it returns its attention to that activity. If the Mind Switch is used to activate a partially paralysed hand which has electrodes implanted in it we believe the brain cooperates in restoring some functionality."

The first Mind Switch which was demonstrated to international and national media in 1995 was set to read changes in brain signals under limited conditions, a third generation Mind Switch currently in development is expected to be capable of universal application.

"Our research with this technology revealed a great variety in the strength of brain signals depending on a person's age and physical and psychological health. The third generation Mind Switch will capture the weakest and even those clouded by static caused by stress or fatigue, which paraplegics and quadriplegics are affected by."

The SCI recovery program - funded by a NSW Premier's award of $1 million - brings together eminent Australian scientists and clinicians as well as the late Christopher Reeve's physician.

The group is taking a multidisciplinary, integrated approach to linking rehabilitation, neurophysiology, clinical exercise physiology, biomedical engineering, clinical biomechanics, psychophysiology and outcome measurement to improve mobility, independence and quality of life for those living with SCI.

Item provided courtesy of University of Technology Sydney

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