May 31, 2016

UAB and Southern Research joint venture to unveil first product

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aim tech delivery 2UAB’s Chris Hurt works with a geriatric patient to measure her fitness level on the ResistX treadmill.Contributed by Southern Research

Following an intensive period of research and product development, the Alliance for Innovative Medical Technology — AIMTech— has quickly developed its first product. ResistX will be unveiled at the American College of Sports Medicine Annual Meeting in Boston, May 31 through June 4.

AIMTech is a collaboration between Southern Research and the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

ResistX is a unique force-induced treadmill designed with safety in mind and engineered for use in physical therapy and rehabilitation centers. It is the first treadmill to allow individuals recovering from neurological or physical disorders — such as injury, stroke or surgery — to exercise in a challenging treadmill environment to improve cardiovascular fitness and lower limb strength. Thanks to a custom algorithm, the device employs resistive forces to increase the amount of work required by an individual to move under his or her own effort, and at a comfortable pace.

Additionally, in order to guard against injury, ResistX features a protective catching mechanism and padded backstop. These features ensure that, if a user loses balance, he or she will not fall or be thrown from the device.

“ResistX is different from anything on the market, and represents a significant milestone for AIMTech and the physical therapy and rehab communities,” said Robert Hergenrother, Ph.D., director of AIMTech and biomedical engineering professor at UAB.

The project was accelerated by a $164,800 grant from the Alabama Innovation Fund — a program administered by the Alabama Department of Commerce that provides funding for promising research being conducted at Alabama universities and organizations.

“The Alabama Innovation Fund is a key component in our efforts to fuel the creation of ‘Made in Alabama’ products while also advancing our strategy of stimulating breakthrough research at universities and institutions across the state,” said Greg Canfield, secretary of the Alabama Department of Commerce. “The treadmill developed by the AIMTech joint venture is precisely the kind of product that aligns with the mission of our Innovation Fund.”

Born to fill a unique market need

The idea behind ResistX originated several years ago following a presentation by Marcas Bamman, Ph.D., director of UAB’s Center for Exercise Medicine, involving a study of individuals with Parkinson’s disease. Christopher Hurt, Ph.D., and Dave Brown, Ph.D., attended the talk as members of the UAB Department of Physical Therapy and immediately realized the need to develop a more effective way to conduct exercise tests for patients with disabilities.

Currently, clinical exercise tests can be difficult for individuals with gait or balance disabilities to perform. For anyone unable to tolerate treadmill tests, alternative methods of measuring estimated peak performance often include bike or recumbent ergometer tests, arm ergometer tests, or submaximal exercise tests. However, these tests have limited ability to provide an accurate estimation of a person’s actual peak performance.

aim tech delivery 3Chris Hurt is able to safely monitor the gait, balance, and fitness of a rehabilitation patient using the ResistX treadmill.“Individuals will self-limit their behaviors if they feel threatened or endangered in some way,” said Hurt, co-inventor and a UAB investigator on the project. “So, if you’re going to exercise without the safety of a support system, then you may limit the benefit of that exercise. If, however, people exercise in a safe environment, they may push themselves a little harder, may exercise a little longer and may ultimately realize a better outcome.”

Additionally, while physical therapists are often able to assess or improve a patient’s fitness level through current methods, there is often limited benefit when it comes to improving one’s ability to walk.

“If you want to get good at throwing a ball, you don’t go out and practice kicking a soccer ball,” Hurt added. “In physical therapy, you need to focus on doing the thing you actually want to get better at. So, if a patient’s goal is to walk again, why can’t we provide a safe, yet challenging, system for the patient to practice walking?”

Woodway commitment

This question led the UAB team to an AIMTech partnership with Southern Research and opened the door for Woodway to provide a treadmill for use in the development of a prototype. Woodway, the pre-eminent manufacturer of high-performance treadmills used by elite athletes and in physical therapy settings around the world, also offered booth space at the American College of Sports Medicine to unveil the invention.

“The AIMTech partnership has been incredible because Southern Research has the expertise and unique ability to develop and bring a product to the market quickly,” said Brown, co-inventor. “But, a lot of credit also goes to Woodway for graciously donating a treadmill and to the Alabama Innovation Fund for providing funding to make this possible.”

After ResistX is unveiled, it will return to Birmingham for use in a clinical setting, and become available for licensing.

“ResistX is a transformational rehabilitation tool that will help people develop the strength they need in order to be able to exercise by themselves again,” Brown said. “That’s our goal, and that’s the wish for every physical therapist dealing with a person who has a disability.”