$2.8 million grant supports UD research to improve walking of stroke patients

1:19 p.m., May 27, 2008--Researchers in UD's Department of Physical Therapy have recently been awarded a $2.8 million, five-year grant from the National Institutes of Health to develop an innovative treatment to help persons who have had strokes to improve their walking.

For many of the 4.7 million people in the U.S. who have had strokes, weakness of leg muscles is a problem, forcing them to walk with difficultly and more slowly than needed to participate in activities. Improving their ability to walk is a major challenge, both for those who have had strokes and rehabilitation specialists.

This project, named FastFES, combines two interventions, which have been shown to be helpful for those who have had strokes. Stroke patients practice walking on a treadmill at very precise speeds that are designed to maximize walking efficiency and appearance. In addition, the investigators use functional electrical stimulation (FES) of several leg muscles while patients walk on the treadmill to strengthen weak muscles and further improve their walking pattern. The combination of these two innovative treatments can help stroke patients to walk faster and more efficiently.

The electrical stimulation that is applied to the muscles is based on innovative stimulation methods developed by Stuart Binder-Macleod, Edward L. Ratledge Professor and chairperson of physical therapy at UD, who is a physical therapist and internationally known researcher in muscle physiology and electrical stimulation.

To lead the study, Binder-Macleod teamed up with Darcy Reisman, UD assistant professor of physical therapy, who is a physical therapist and researcher and an expert in the treatment of people with hemiparesis (partial paralysis of one side of the body) and treadmill training. The research team also includes Katherine Rudolph, assistant professor of physical therapy; Ramu Perumal and Margie Roos, research scientists in physical therapy; William Farquhar, assistant professor of health, nutrition and exercise sciences; and Jill Higginson, assistant professor of mechanical engineering.

FastFES research involves both detailed evaluations and up to 36 training sessions to identify the most effective training procedures. Each training session, conducted under the supervision of a licensed physical therapist, is customized for each individual with the goal of identifying a training strategy to optimize each person's walking ability. There are no out-of-pocket expenses for participants in the study.

For more information about the FastFES study, go to [www.udel.edu/PT/Research/fastFES], send e-mail to [UDPTresearch@udel.edu] or call (302) 831-4616.