Biomedical engineer Bijan Najafi, PhD, a renowned expert on human motion recently recruited to the University of Arizona Department of Surgery, has brought together UA researchers, clinicians and biomedical engineers to form theInterdisciplinary Consortium on Advanced Motion Performance (iCAMP).
iCAMP teams from podiatric and vascular surgery, orthopedics, nursing, geriatrics, anthropology and engineering employ high-tech body-worn sensors embedded in socks, shirts, straps, patches and other devices to study physical activity patterns, gait and balance parameters, as well as three-dimensional joint structures.
“By combining body-worn sensors with virtual reality, thermal imaging and artificial intelligence, we can gather data that can improve a patient’s function, mobility and quality of life by giving medical teams the information they need to provide the most effective treatments,” said Dr. Najafi, associate professor, the UA Division of Vascular and Endovascular Surgery and iCAMP director.
David G. Armstrong, DPM, MD, PhD, iCAMP scientific director and professor of surgery and director of the Southern Arizona Limb Salvage Alliance (SALSA), explained that just like monitoring a person’s heartbeat, body motion sensors can monitor irregularities in the way people move. Subtle changes in activity in pre- and post-operative patients, he said, can signal potential problems.
“Using the technology of intelligent textiles in clothing that a person hardly knows is there, we can reduce pre- and post-surgical complications and speed recovery,” Dr. Armstrong said.
iCAMP clinical director and UA orthopedic surgeon Daniel Latt, MD, PhD, said the consortium will study movement in patients in three UA labs, including a 70-foot gait lab.
“You can really see where the rubber meets the road in the gait lab,” said Dr. Latt, who studies surgical outcomes in people with very high arches and other orthopedic issues.
“In the case of a patient with a very high arch, special sensors can be used in a shoe to determine how surgery impacts the pressure distribution on a foot. With the new technology we can compare different surgical procedures to determine which is the most effective. Before the advent of body-worn sensors, physicians often relied on ‘eyeballing’ the difference in a person’s gait following surgery. This quantifies it.”
Dr. Najafi and Dr. Armstrong recently received research grants to study specialized socks that use high-tech fiber optics to monitor temperature, pressure and joint angles in feet of people with diabetes. People with diabetes often lose the sensation of pain and are unaware of developing foot ulcers that can lead to amputation and death. The socks include technology to measure daily activity to help identify the area of the foot most likely to develop an ulcer.
“We are developing a center of excellence for assessing how people move through their world,” said Dr. Armstrong. “I can’t think of anything that is more interdisciplinary and so rife for discovery.”
Rainer W.G. Gruessner, MD, chairman, UA Department of Surgery, said, “We recruited Dr. Najafi for his expertise in the field of human movement analysis to provide a better understanding of the role of how motion can predict surgical outcomes. With better understanding of these mechanisms and processes, we can accelerate patient recovery.”
Bijan Najafi, PhD
Dr. Najafi has gained international recognition for his pioneering work using activity monitoring and motion analysis. He has developed biomechanical models of the human body and combined them with small, low-cost sensors to create a system of portable motion sensors worn by patients.
Dr. Najafi previously served as director of Dr. Scholl’s Human Performance Laboratory at the Rosalind Franklin University of Medicine and Science in Chicago. He is the author of more than 60 peer-reviewed articles, and in the last year, initiated research collaboration with at least 20 different centers around the world.
After receiving a PhD in biomedical engineering from Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, Dr. Najafi completed a postdoctoral fellowship in neuroscience at Harvard University. He has more than a decade of experience in designing bio-inspired sensors for the objective evaluation of patients with locomotor dysfunctions.
“My main focus is the quantification of quality of mobility,” explained Dr. Najafi. “I directly interact with the clinicians who know the problem and as engineers we try to provide solutions.’’