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"Gears of Progress" - Season 1

Episode 1 - Elijah Kuska: on computational biomechnics, synergies debates, and importance of education accessibility 

Dr. Elijah Kuska (TwitterGoogle Scholar profile) received his PhD in Mechanical Engineering at the University of Washington at the Steele Lab. His dissertation is titled In Silico Techniques to Improve Understanding of Gait in Cerebral Palsy and can be accessed here. We talked about the applicability of computation biomechanics and modeling in rehab engineering, discussed synergies and the never-ending debate around them, the importance of improving accessibility in higher education, and his goals for the teaching professor position at the Colorado School of Mines.

Episode 2: Mia Hoffman: on early childhood mobility, young kids as participants, and accessibility of research for people with disabilities 

Mia Hoffman is a third-year PhD student (personal page, Twitter) at the University of Washington’s Steele Lab. Her main research motto is “Let kids be kids”, and all of her work is a true reflection of it. In just two years at UW, she has engaged in multiple projects that we discussed in this episode that focus on early childhood mobility (ride-on cars and harness systems) and the development of simple switch access toolkits to improve accessibility of toys for kids of all abilities. We also discussed the importance of qualitative research in the field of assistive tech and touched on how accessibility of research environments for people with disabilities. Mia shared a great deal of useful resources with us that are available below.

Episode 3: Charlotte Caskey: on spinal stimulation in children with cerebral palsy, fancy neuroscience, and balance between clinical research and real world

Charlotte Caskey (LinkedIn) is a fifth year PhD student in Mechanical Engineering at the University of Washington at the Steele Lab. Her work focuses on studying how non-invasive spinal stimulation affects walking and neuromechanics in children with cerebral palsy. In this episode, we discussed her road to where she is now, the opportunities the non-invasive spinal stimulation brought to the field of lower-limb rehabilitation, what the hopes for it are in the research and rehab communities, and how to strive for the balance between research in clinical settings and outside world. More on the spinal stimulation work can be found below.

Episode 4: Fatma Inanici: on spinal stimulation to restore hand function, wonders of noninvasive interventions, and research differences across the world.

Fatma Inanici, MD, PhD, is a research faculty at the University of Washington, Department of Rehabilitation Medicine. Dr. Inanici served as a physician-scientist until 2013 and has been focusing solely on research since then. Dr. Inanici develops innovative and novel treatment strategies in neurorehabilitation, mainly using electrical spinal cord stimulation. Her work aims to restore function, improve independence, and promote the participation of people with movement disorders through a combination of rehabilitation principles, neuroplasticity, and neural engineering practices. Currently, her research interests include non-invasive electrical spinal cord stimulation to restore sensorimotor function in people with spinal cord injury, stroke, multiple sclerosis, and chronic pain.

Episode 5: Kim Ingraham: on personalized controllers for lower-limb assistive robotics, powered mobility devices for kids, and a path to faculty positions.

Prof. Kim Ingraham is an Assistant Professor of Electrical & Computer Engineering and an Adjunct Assistant Professor of Mechanical Engineering at UW. She is affiliated with UW CREATE (Center for Research and Education on Accessible Technology and Experiences) and is a core faculty member of the AMP Lab. Prof. Ingraham directs the (yet-to-be-named) Ingraham Lab, focused on advacing human mobility using assistive robotic devices, such as exoskeletons, prostheses, and powered wheelchairs.

Prof. Ingraham has an interdisciplinary training background, and has earned degrees in Biomedical Engineering (BE 2012, Vanderbilt University) and Mechanical Engineering (MS, PhD 2021, University of Michigan). She was a CREATE postdoctoral fellow in Rehabilitation Medicine at the University of Washington. Prior to beginning graduate school, she worked as a Research Engineer at the Shirley Ryan AbilityLab (formerly the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago).

In her past professional and doctoral research, Prof. Ingraham has developed and evaluated physiologically-inspired control systems for a variety of assistive devices, including powered lower-limb prostheses, robotic exoskeletons, and powered wheelchairs for young children with disabilities. Prof. Ingraham was an NSF graduate research fellow, and received Honorable Mention for the 2021 Richard and Eleanor Towner Prize for Outstanding Ph.D. Research at the University of Michigan.

Special Episode 1: RESNA's Guidelines and Priorities for Assistive Technology and Rehabilitive Engineering Research

In this episode, I talked with Maureen Linden, an executive director of the Center for Inclusive Design and Innovation at Georgia Tech and a former president of Rehabilitation Engineering and Assistive Technology Society of North America (RESNA). The topic of our discussion was RESNA's Guidelines and Priorities for Assistive Technology and Rehabilitation Engineering Research. We discussed several aspects of how research in rehab engineering and AT should be pursued, such as user involvement, universal design approach, science translation, and performance standards. We also went over what areas RESNA identified as research priorities to be pursued back in 2014 when the last version of the guidelines was created.

Episode 6: Jessica Zistatsis, MS, Project Manager at Orthocare Innovations, LLC: on pediatric exoskeletons, R&D industry, and user acceptance of assistive tech.

Jessica Garries (LinkedIn) received her BSc and MSc in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Washington. During her undergraduate capstone project for the Engineering
Innovation in Health
 class, she and her classmates got to work on transforming an existing exoskeleton for individuals with stroke from Cadence Biomedical into a pediatric solution for children with cerebral palsy - PlayGait. Jessica’s capstone team later patented the exoskeleton and she continued to develop it during her Master’s degree, receiving $95,000 in funding to support her work. Her work with PlayGait didn’t stop even after Jessica joined Orthocare Innovations, a Seattle-based R&D company focused on developing providing prosthetic, orthotic, and rehabilitation solutions. In this episode, we covered her path to assistive technologies, doing research in an industry setting, and various aspects that go into making an innovation successful.

Special Episode 2: Rita Stanley: On Policy Making, Role of Reimbursement COsed for Assistive Technologies, and How to Make AT More Accessible

Rita Stanely (LinkedIn) is a long-time advocate for making assistive technology more accessible. She has worked in and around the policy-making world for several decades and dedicated her life understanding how science can influence policy. In this episode, we have covered the topics of policy making in the spaces of rehab engineering and assistive tech, what researchers in AT should know about reimbursement codes and policy when developing new tech to ensure its accessible to the intended population, and how our government's view has changed about the importance of providing rehab and assistive tech in the last 20 years.

Episode 7: Alyssa Spomer, Ph.D., Clinical Scientist at Gillette Children's: [TBD]

Release Date: February 23, 2024

Episode 8: Nataliya Rokhmanova: on haptic feedback, international PhD program, and fantastic figures and where to find them

Nataliya Rokhmanova is a PhD Student in the joint program between Carnegie Mellon University and the Max Planck Institute for Intelligent Systems. She is co-advised by Dr. Katherine J. Kuchenbecker in the MPI Haptic Intelligence Department and Dr. Eni Halilaj in the CMU Mechanical Engineering Department. She is a US National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellow. 

Nataliya's research centers on helping humans improve the way they walk. She combines technical methods from musculoskeletal biomechanics and haptics in order to develop systems for gait biofeedback. She believes that a mechanistic understanding of the human body can help slow the progression of diseases such as knee osteoarthritis, and that the next generation of wearable devices can enable individualized precision treatment and inform clinical decisions. 

Nataliya received her MSc degree in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Washington in Seattle, where she was advised by Dr. Eric Rombokas. In her thesis, Sensory Feedback in Lower Limb Prostheses, she developed a haptic feedback system for below-knee amputees, and characterized sensory nerve remapping after a targeted muscle reinnervation surgery. Nataliya received her BSc in Biomedical Engineering at Northwestern University.

In her free time, she helps organize CMU's yearly National Biomechanics Day event for introducing high school students to STEM and biomechanics and is one of MPI's Internal PhD Representatives

Episode 9: Spero Koulouras: on Autonomous Living Technologies, filling the gabs in current assistive tech, and paving the path for a more accessible future

Spero Koulouras is a computer engineer by training and an entrepreneur by heart. One of his latest ventures is Auli.Tech, a company that designs open-source applications and devices enabling individuals to overcome intramuscular and vocal impairments.

In this episode, Spero discusses his journey in the tech industry and his experience with ALS diagnosis 5 years ago, which got him on the path of developing assistive technologies like Cato. Cato is a small device that uses motion recognition and AI to enable control of things such as computer mouse, keyboard, game controller, and even a harness.

Episode 10: Ben Schouten: on role of payful interactions in rehabilitation, serious games, and accessibility of gaming environments

Ben Schouten (Google Scholarpersonal webpage) is a proffessor of Playful Interactions in Smart Environments at
Eindhoven University of Technology and a lector of Play & Civic Media Research at Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences. His work focuses on play and design for social innovations, citizen empowerment, and culture as well as toy development for the purpose of rehabilitation.

In this episode, Ben and I covered what serious games are, his work in incorporating playful interactions in medical settings, the powerful use of mixed-reality games to "step into someone's shoes", and the importance of participatory design.

Episode 11: Benjamin Conner: on exoskeletons for gait training, translational valley of death, and the value of MD/PhD programs

Benjamin Conner (Google ScholarLinkedIn) got an MD/PhD in clinical translational sciences from University of Arizona, shares his journey from studying biology and anthropology to biomechanics and exoskeleton implementation. He discusses the importance of mentors and the impact of movement as medicine. Ben explains the role of an MD/PhD in bridging the gap between basic science research and clinical care. He highlights the challenges of the translational valley of death and the disconnect between research priorities and patient needs. Ben also provides an overview of his PhD work on using an exoskeleton device as a training system for children with cerebral palsy. During his PhD, Ben also designed No Limits mobile app, a resource for paraplegic and quadriplegic athletes.

Episode 12: Chu Li: on accessibility of urban design, Project Sidewalk, and global efforts to improve urban access

Chu Li (Twitter, Google Scholar, LinkedIn, personal website) is a PhD student in Makeability Lab at the University of Washington. Her work lies at the intersection of urban science and accessibility. In this episode, we talked about her journey into the field of human-computer interactions, Project Sidewalk and Chu's involvement in it, and pondered on what it would take to improve the perspectives on urban accessibility across the world.

Episode 13: Beth Halsne: on patient-centric prosthetic feet perscription, role of prosthetists in research, and engineering innovation in health

Beth Halsne (websiteGoogle ScholarLinkedIn) is a certified prosthetist/orthotist and a principal investigator at the Center for Limb Loss and MoBility (CLiMB) at the VA Puget Sound in Seattle, WA and an Affiliate Assistant Professor in the Department of Rehabilitation Medicine at the University of Washington. Her major research project includes work on patient-centered prosthetic feet prescription, utilizing Humotech's emulator. In this episode, we discussed the winding road she took from the P&O school and to getting a PhD in Rehabilitation Sciences.