All 350 participants at INRS 2009 unanimously concluded that encouraging research results in the field of technology-assisted neurological rehabilitation pointed the way to an exciting future. Conventional movement disorder therapy (used after stroke or injury, for example) will be augmented in future by intelligent devices, which will help patients to practice movement patterns – and maybe even help them to relearn how to walk or grasp an object. Symposium participants came from approximately 40 different countries and were all agreed on this point. At the Irchel campus of the University of Zurich, from Thursday to Saturday, they exchanged their experiences and research results in relation to new technologies in neurological rehabilitation.
“My dream is that children with neurological motion disorders will travel through virtual worlds with the help of a robotic gait orthosis . For example, they might explore a farm, smelling the country air and hearing the chickens cluck. While this is happening, the robot would provide them with physiological gait training”, according to Professor Paolo Bonato. The Director of the Motion Analysis Laboratory at the Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital, Boston, USA, had traveled here to present the results of his research. Studies such as his have demonstrated that young (and old) patients learn better if they are motivated and are given immediate feedback on how they have performed a movement. They exercise enthusiastically, and can repeat the same movement over and over again – with support from the equipment. Only constant repetition enables our brains to learn – whether we want to play the piano or learn to walk (again). These new devices with virtual computer worlds combine frequent repetition with motivation and feedback, and are not that far from making Professor Bonato’s dream a reality, even at this stage. A large number of different disciplines will now have to work together to develop these complex machines even further.
Broad exchange of international and interdisciplinary views.
This is why the symposium in Zurich attracted pure researchers (e.g. in neurobiology and motor function) through research and industrial development engineers, to doctors and therapists. They were enthused by top-quality presentations from internationally-renowned speakers. “The participants found the interdisciplinary contact and variety of presentations, from basic laboratory research to research in clinical practice, combined with workshops on machine applications, extremely useful for their day-to-day work”, according to Dr. Gery Colombo, CEO of main organizer Hocoma AG from Volketswil, near Zurich in Switzerland. “We are proud that so many well-known international speakers came to Zurich, and that symposium participants traveled from all over the world to meet with them”. It was possible to achieve this contingent of researchers because Hocoma AG acts as Industrial Partner to the MIMICS EU project, and also maintains good contacts with the Spinal Cord Repair EU project. These three pulled together, with the result that many scientists accepted the invitation to Zurich. Speakers and participants traveled here from approximately 40 countries, including the USA and Mexico, across the whole of Europe (from Norway to Italy and Portugal to Russia), as well as Thailand, Hong Kong and India.
Economic and political significance.
In his address at the opening of the second day, Thomas Heiniger, Member of the State Governing Council and Head of the Department of Health in the Canton of Zurich, emphasized the importance of medical science for Zurich’s international image. Franz Steinegger, Chairman and Member of the Board at SUVA (the Swiss Accident Insurance Organisation), pointed out in the round-table discussion that the ongoing development of technologically-assisted neurorehabilitation must also be an important goal from the point of view of economics.
The conference was closed by Professor W. Zev Rymer, Director of Research at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago, USA (which is regarded world-wide as the top research center for neurological rehabilitation) with the following words.
“The INRS has been one of the most significant scientific meetings in our field to date, even though it was not set up by International Neurorehabilitation Symposium a scientific association. We must maintain this interdisciplinary contact, and undertake much more research activity so that we can offer our patients the best possible treatment at all times”.