Research News

Innovative stroke recovery system lands UB team in finals of statewide competition

mRehab team members Sutanuka Bhattacharjya and Chen Song take a selfie with SUNY Chancellor Kristina Johnson and New York State Health Commissioner Howard Zucker.

mRehab team members Sutanuka Bhattacharjya (left) and Chen Song take a selfie with SUNY Chancellor Kristina Johnson and New York State Health Commissioner Howard Zucker.

By DAVID J. HILL

Published December 6, 2018

A team of UB students and faculty members was among the five finalists that competed in New York State’s Aging Innovation Challenge on Nov. 29 at the SUNY Global Center in New York City.

The UB team presented mRehab, an innovative, portable, home rehabilitation system that uses 3D printing and smartphone technology. The team of faculty and undergraduate and graduate students designed the system for people who’ve lost upper limb motor function after stroke. Impairments following stroke make it one of the leading causes of disability, and many individuals with stroke don’t regain complete function of their upper limb upon being discharged from clinical services, the team explains on its project website.

The mRehab system 3D-printed objects

The mRehab system 3D-printed objects are designed to hold a smartphone.

The mRehab system includes 3D-printed objects commonly found in the home, such as a mug or a bowl. The printed objects are designed to hold a smartphone. The hardware in the smartphone can record movement data and a custom app guides individuals through activities to retrain them in activities of daily living related to eating and mobility.

mRehab can track the patient’s performance, allowing both the user and caregiver to monitor the patient’s progress.

“The goal of mRehab is to use technology to support individuals in their motor recovery,” says team member Jeanne Langan, assistant professor in the Department of Rehabilitation Science, School of Public Health and Health Professions (SPHHP).

“We were excited to be one of the final five teams in the Aging Innovation Challenge,” she says, adding that the competition also proved to be an excellent learning experience for students and faculty members alike by encouraging interdisciplinary collaboration to develop product ideas and practice pitching them.

The timing of the competition was also appropriate. People over the age of 65 represent one of the fastest-growing demographics in the United States, according to Langan. “The Aging Innovation Challenge is an excellent opportunity to promote creative approaches to solving problems associated with aging,” she says.

The mRehab team comprises a mix of UB students and faculty from several academic units, including SPHHP, the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, and the Center for Inclusive Design and Environmental Access (IDeA Center) in the School of Architecture and Planning.

mRehab student team members are Chen Song and Zhengxiong Li, doctoral candidates in computer science and engineering; and senior computer science and engineering majors Matthew Stafford and Zhuolin Yang.

In addition to Langan, faculty team members include Wenyao Xu, associate professor, Department of Computer Science and Engineering; Lora Cavuoto, associate professor, Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering; Heamchand Subryan, programmer/analyst in the IDeA Center; and Sutanuka Bhattacharjya, postdoctoral associate in the Department of Rehabilitation Science.

Developed in partnership with crowdsourcing platform HeroX, the state Department of Health-sponsored Aging Innovation Challenge aimed to generate innovative solutions to assist older adults and their caregivers in carrying out daily living activities.

The competition was open to all undergraduate and graduate students attending a college or university in New York State. Initially, 35 teams submitted their innovation. The field was narrowed down to 24 semifinalists and then five finalists, each of which received $5,000.

In addition to UB, the other finalists came from Corning Community College, Syracuse University and two from Cornell University. The teams from Corning and Syracuse were named co-winners of the event and split the $25,000 top prize.

mRehab team members Sutanuka Bhattacharjya and Chen Song present during the Aging Innovation Challenge finals in New York City.

mRehab team members Sutanuka Bhattacharjya (right) and Chen Song present during the Aging Innovation Challenge finals in New York City.

Each team was given 15 minutes to provide a live demonstration of their prototype and describe how it will help older adults and their caregivers to a panel of five judges, which included HeroX CEO Christian Cotichini; SUNY Chancellor Kristina M. Johnson; Laurie Orlov, founder of Aging in Place Technology Watch; and New York State Health Commissioner Howard Zucker.

“This year’s event showcased some of the best young entrepreneurial minds New York’s college and universities have to offer,” Zucker says.

In March, the mRehab team won second place in the UB Aging Innovation Challenge. That competition was organized by UB’s Blackstone LaunchPad entrepreneurial program in conjunction with several campus partners. It was conducted in response to the state Health Department’s call to engage college students and faculty in developing the next breakthrough in assisting aging New Yorkers and their caregivers.

“We are thankful for UB’s Center for Successful Aging and Blackstone LaunchPad for initiating local competitions and encouraging participation,” Langan says.

The mRehab team is in the midst of a pilot study in which individuals with stroke are using the system in their home to work on daily living activities. “Individuals training with the system have given us positive feedback and appreciate being able to see how their performance changes as they work on the activities,” Langan says.