Binghamton University’s new Motion Analysis Research Lab has some of the most sophisticated equipment available for conducting human-movement research focused on improving the health and quality of life for residents of the Southern Tier and beyond.
Known as the MARL, the 1,600-square-foot facility on the ground floor of the University’s West Gym provides faculty researchers with the tools to perform detailed evaluations on how individuals move. The goal is to assist physical and occupational therapists in identifying and addressing mobility issues resulting from injury, disease and aging. The lab will also be used for education.
“This is a high-tech facility that creates opportunities for immersive and dynamic learning experiences for students in the physical therapy and occupational therapy programs, as well as students in engineering and bioengineering,” says Vipul Lugade, MARL director and an associate professor in the Decker College of Nursing and Health Sciences Division of Physical Therapy.
“As part of the teaching and research initiatives in the lab, patients from the community will be evaluated for gait, posture, strength, as well as cognitive and balance performance,” he adds.
“In the MARL, we will provide services to young and older adults, including objective evaluations of human movement, investigating the effects of morbidity and providing home-based assessments and interventions.”
The opening of the MARL in February is a significant step forward for Binghamton University’s School of Rehabilitation Sciences, established in 2019 along with the School of Applied Health Sciences. These schools join the Decker School of Nursing, established in 1969 as the School of Nursing, to make up Decker College of Nursing and Health Sciences.
Inside the MARL
Among the cutting-edge equipment in the MARL is a computerized system for clinical balance assessment and training that features immersive, virtual reality technology. There is also a 12-camera, 3D motion-analysis system that enables recording and tracking of human movement; a high-frequency, floor-embedded force-plate system for measuring ground-reaction forces; and a 16-sensor electromyography system for recording muscle activity.
Other equipment includes a system for balance testing and training, goggles for tracking eye movement, a portable gait measurement and evaluation system that provides identification of gait anomalies, and insoles that measure foot pressure.
This equipment and the renovations needed to create the MARL were funded by a grant from the Dr. G. Clifford and Florence B. Decker Foundation, which provided the original gift to name the School of Nursing in 1989 and has been a significant supporter of Binghamton University’s health sciences growth ever since.
d3ddDecker Foundation Executive Director Gerald Putman ’76, MBA ’84, says: “The addition of the MARL to the health sciences disciplines is just one more example of the University’s commitment to improve healthcare in our community and our country. It is a tool that students and community practitioners can use to learn and practice. Binghamton University graduates enjoy a reputation for quality, and the MARL will ensure that quality continues in the new health sciences programs.”
“Binghamton University has a deep and enduring relationship with the Decker Foundation because we share a commitment to healthcare education, with a goal of creating a healthier community,” Binghamton University President Harvey Stenger adds. “This grant enables the University to accelerate the formation of our motion analysis and speech labs, which are critical to establishing our new programs and important to the long-term growth and health of the campus and the community.”
According to Michael Buck, associate professor and founding director of the Division of Physical Therapy, the lab provides space for faculty scholarship, a required criterion for accreditation of the occupational therapy (OT) and physical therapy (PT) programs.
It’s also an important part of the OT and PT curricula, enabling faculty and students to study injury prevention and rehabilitation methods, as well as techniques to improve human physiologic response to activity and overall physical performance.
“It’s essential that we prepare our students to embrace newly developing, advanced technologies into their clinical reasoning and be prepared by our faculty leaders in innovation though their achievements in the MARL,” says Jane Bear-Lehman, professor and founding director of Decker’s Division of Occupational Therapy.
Collaborative research with wide impact
The lab has already proven beneficial in attracting faculty to the rehab therapy programs.
“Faculty in the MARL will be developing and investigating potential changes in treatment and evaluating the efficacy of interventions that could change the way care is provided on a large scale,” Buck says. “Ultimately, we want to create a center where people from PT, OT, nursing, engineering, doctors and surgeons all work together to improve how care is provided.”
Bear-Lehman adds: “The MARL will facilitate strong clinical research developments to solve clinically based problems that can enrich practice delivered by clinical teams of physicians, surgeons and therapists to improve the day-to-day lives of our patients.”
Lugade, an engineer with expertise in human movement, has begun several projects in the lab, including working with mechanical engineering students from the Thomas J. Watson College of Engineering and Applied Science who are designing a fall-arrest system for use during gait assessments.
In February, Lugade and Sue O’Brien, associate professor of PT, began studying older adults with balance issues. After an initial assessment in the MARL, the subjects follow prescribed interventions at home using a smart-phone app to track their results and identify fall risk. At the end of the study, the subjects will be reassessed to determine if they perform better on balance tests. This project team also includes Lijun Yin, a professor of computer science at Watson College.
Another project will focus on people diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease and whether home-based evaluations can objectively assess their gait and balance under single- and dual-task conditions. Lugade and Gurpreet Singh, assistant professor of PT, are also using smart-phone applications in this study.
As a research lab, the goal is to eventually effect change in interventions on a wider scale, Lugade says. And it’s that potential to make a big difference that appealed to him when he joined the University in September 2021.
“I want to be somewhere where I can help guide the research path,” Lugade says. “I’m really into community outreach and helping underrepresented rural populations, and that’s one of the missions of Binghamton University and Decker College, so it just fit perfectly.”