How to keep fit when you're paralysed

Issued: Tue, 19 Mar 2002 00:00:00 GMT

A University of Glasgow Professor is helping patients with spinal injuries to do more exercise as part of their rehabilitation programmes, thanks to a six-month industry secondment supported by the Royal Academy of Engineering.

Ken Hunt, Professor of Mechanical Engineering, is working full-time in the Queen Elizabeth National Spinal Injuries Unit at the Southern General Hospital while the secondment grant pays for a colleague to take over his university teaching duties.

Professor Hunt has an ongoing collaboration with the Spinal Injuries Unit, but says spending six solid months working there has given a huge boost to his research. "First-hand medical training from the consultants is helping me to understand exactly what kind of medical devices they need from us," he says. "They will also have a more realistic idea of what our technology can actually do. I'm also building some really useful case-studies to show my biomechanics students how we can help paraplegics stand up and even go cycling."

Professor Hunt is helping to refine a technique called Functional Electrical Stimulation, which the Spinal Injuries Unit uses to give paralysed patients some temporary movement by electrically contracting their muscles. Crucially, it enables them to exercise.

"Patients with spinal cord injuries suffer from various illnesses because they can't exercise efficiently," he says. "To stay healthy you need to stress your heart by exercising your large muscles. This technique was invented about 20 years ago but we're developing new applications for arm and leg exercise. These are particularly good for people whose spinal cord is not completely severed - it's very helpful in their rehabilitation and allows paraplegic people to cycle for several kilometres."

The Royal Academy of Engineering offers 15-20 industrial secondments each year as part of a £250,000 scheme to give university engineering lecturers industrial experience that will enhance and inform their teaching. The scheme is supported through grant-in-aid from the Office of Science & Technology.


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Professor Kenneth Hunt is a Chartered Engineer who graduated in electrical and electronic engineering from the University of Strathclyde and continued doing research there for a PhD in control theory. He spent five years as a project leader with Daimler-Benz Systems Technology Research in Berlin and then returned to the University of Glasgow in 1998 to become Professor of Mechanical Engineering, where his research focuses on non-linear control theory.

Professor Hunt is coordinator of a UK-wide network, funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, which is developing the technology for functional electrical stimulation, and promoting its uptake in industry and transfer into clinical centres.

The Royal Academy of Engineering aims to pursue, encourage and maintain excellence across the whole field of engineering in order to promote the advancement of the science, art and practice of engineering for the benefit of the public. The Academy comprises the UK's most eminent engineers and is able to use their combined wealth of knowledge and experience to meet its objectives.

For more information please contact:
Jane Sutton at the Royal Academy of Engineering
tel: 020 7227 0536, mobile: 07989 513045,
or Professor Ken Hunt, tel: 0141 201 2544,

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