Friday, April 3, 2015

URSP Student Nisha Kapani Researches if Normal and Traumatic Brain Injured Research Subjects Use Virtual Tools in Similar Ways

Seeing that I am a neuroscience major and premedical student, the comparison between traumatic brain injured (TBI) patients and normal subjects provides an interesting comparison. Haptics technology is increasingly applied to help understand problems of movement and possible treatments.  Thanks to the Office of Student Scholarship, Creative Activities, and Research, I have been funded to study “Do normal and traumatic brain injured research subjects use virtual tools in a similar fashion?” in the upcoming spring 2015 semester.
I was first introduced to haptic devices in my Introduction to Clinical Research class in spring 2014. Another student was analyzing the motor and cognitive differences between research subjects with and without TBI in a virtual environment using haptic technology. During the summer of 2014, I volunteered in the lab and began analyzing the differences between the two groups (normal and TBI subjects).
A haptic device is one that senses body’s movements and involves physical contact between the computer and the user, usually through an input/output device, such as a joystick or data gloves.  Haptic technology makes it possible to investigate components of movement and determine relative contributions of touch and position sense (proprioception) to better understand how people learn and improve their motor activity. Human movement is, in part a result of what happens in the pre-motor cortex and the motor cortex, how these signals are transmitted into the periphery, and how the person experiences the final interaction.
When I am in the lab, I time the specific movements and calculate both efficiency and accuracy from the data of each subject.  Then, I analyze the differences between the two subject groups and seek a comparison to see if one group performs the tasks more accurately and efficiently. This week in the lab I finally obtained the distance data I need to compare to the timed movements.  This project ultimately seeks to determine if there are fine motor performance and sensory (proprioceptive) differences between people with TBI and those without TBI. This will be measured using haptic devices in virtual environments. Haptic devices can capture position and force data while subjects are performing functional tasks. The main goal of my research is to figure out how to measure proprioception, which is a complex sensation. Proprioception provides us with position sense and knowledge of where we are in space. People with TBI often have difficulty with motor function and coordination.  Loss of proprioception may contribute to this problem. My lab has a haptic device that measures the interaction between movement and objects in virtual space: the Phantom OMNI. This device has a stylus, held by the subject and provides force feedback when in the virtual environment, just like most video game controllers. Movement of the stylus can be recorded in real time so that its positon, and the position of the hand and virtual object, can be tracked in real time.

I expect to be able to differentiate the motor differences between the two patient groups and find what, if any, aspect of this experiment shows a proprioceptive deficit. This study will also help answer the question of how sensitive the haptic is for identifying differences between the two groups. In addition, I hope to learn more about how haptics can contribute to patients with motor deficiencies such as Parkinson’s, make a contribution to the field of haptics, and further our understanding of brain function.