New Functional Performance Lab Promotes Rehabilitation and Research
Posted: October 17, 2013 at 5:00 am, Last Updated: October 18, 2013 at 6:44 am
By Michele McDonald
When illness or injury makes walking to the corner or reaching for the high shelf seem nearly impossible, a new rehabilitation science laboratory at George Mason University can help.
With more than two years in the planning, the Department of Rehabilitation Science in the College of Health and Human Services (CHHS) opened the Functional Performance Laboratory this month in the Nguyen Engineering Building.
The lab is a significant boost to the research offerings at George Mason, notes Thomas Prohaska, CHHS dean. Researchers can use the lab to build scientific foundations for new diagnostic approaches while clients receive needed help in going about their daily lives, he says, adding CHHS plans to partner with other units in the college and across the university.
“It fits perfectly with our strategy of having health sciences meet health practices,” Prohaska says.
The emphasis is on function — helping people in their daily activities — rather than increasing athletic performance, says Andrew Guccione, chair of the Department of Rehabilitation Science. “This is about the clinical application of exercise and movement,” he says. “We believe that exercise and movement are nonpharmaceutical alternatives to many of today’s health problems.”
Potential studies conducted in the lab include people who have had falls or suffered strokes or spinal cord injuries. People with chronic neurological diseases such as Parkinson’s could also benefit from the work done in the lab as could those with chronic illnesses including Lupus, cardiovascular disease and hypertension.
“If illness or disability should happen to you, how do you go back to the life you had before?” Guccione says. “Rehabilitation science can help rehabilitation therapists understand how to do that better. Quality of life is the common endpoint of what we do.”
Developing clinical interventions to potential problems is another goal of the lab. For example, preventing falls. “We want to address the problem before it happens,” Guccione says, explaining that the lab is built to challenge the body — a crucial aspect of the rehabilitation process. “That is how the body learns to grow and adapt. It’s the basic principle of stressing the body to perform at a preferred level.”
The lab currently supports four full-time faculty with a fifth to be added next year. Students will also benefit from the lab because they’re able to do real-world research, Guccione adds.
The rehab lab has the expected equipment — treadmills, stationery bikes, metabolic and cardiorespiratory monitors, motion capture devices and computers with sophisticated software. One treadmill has split belts to accommodate different walking patterns for each leg. Sensors dotting legs or arms transfer information to nearby computers to create animated stick-figure models that can be analyzed to study variations in movement. There’s even a harness on a ceiling track that’s attached to a specially reinforced girder that enables people to walk with support. Cameras track their movement so researchers can study it in depth to develop rehabilitation regimens.
But it’s the windows that catch the eye and make the space more than just another research lab. “Even though our research interests are clinical, we didn’t want the lab to look sterile,” Guccione says.
The blue skies and green trees seen through the spacious windows can even help keep people moving. “A lot of labs don’t have windows, and it gets boring to stare at a wall while on a treadmill,” says Brett Say, program coordinator for Rehabilitation Science.
Also on view from the lab are parking spaces for people with impairments and disabilities. “That is very important in recruiting subjects for clinical research,” Guccione says, pointing to the disability access parking spaces. The Aquatic and Fitness Center is across the street as well, offering researchers more options to study recovery from illness or injury.
Write to Michele McDonald at firstname.lastname@example.org