The Peer review has evaluated this group as Excellent
Research is structured on six topics Neuro prostheses Design, prototyping and clinical trials of neuroprostheses for neuromotor rehabilitation of neurological patients with applications to pathologies as spinal cord injury and stroke hemiplegia. The aim of neuroprostheses for complete SCI patients is the improvement of the cardiovascular and muscular conditioning, while on stroke and ataxic patients the use of functional NPs could have a role in the relearning of the motor control, exploiting the complete afference of the muscular activation. Neuroprostheses controllers developed are mostly based on biomimetic designs using of artificial neural networks. Devices as ergometers interconnected with electrical stimulators and automatic controllers are developed. Recently NIRS has been explored as a fatigue indicator during the exercise; in addition f-MRI has been explored as a method to investigate the re-organization of the cerebral cortex due to the rehabilitation based on neuroprostheses. Movement analysis technologies and applications There are two lines. The first is the development of methods and technologies for motion capture, from the design of spatial localisers to methods for threedimensional data reconstruction of points and surfaces. The developments, that started with the development of the Department’s own motion capture system (hardware platform and software) in the early eighties, include also a complete space qualified system for motion capture that will be installed on the international space station in July 2007. A previous experience was conducted in ‘90s developing a motion capture system for the MIR space-station. The second regards the clinical application of quantitative analysis of posture and movement in the evaluation of patients with motor disabilities. These range from muscular dystrophy to cerebral palsy, to Parkinson’s diseases, to orthopaedics problems, to Down syndrome. 82 Motor control Experimental researches on motor control are supported by mathematical models and numerical simulations. Computational models representing the motor system at different levels allow an effective testing of theories raising from behavioural evidences and the formulation of new hypotheses. The combination of experimental campaigns, where the subjects perform ordinary movements in unusual conditions such as weightlessness and artificial extension of the natural base of support, and simulation of the human motor behaviour in these conditions highlight the criteria used by the central nervous system to plan and control movements' execution. Results, useful for the design of rehabilitation techniques and diagnostic tests in neurological diseases, have shown the high adaptability of the CNS to very different conditions requiring alternative motor patterns to be generated to perform the same movement. These researches are among the first trying to model also posture and equilibrium constraint. Concerning motor control strategies in relation to gait, the correlation is being studied among biomechanical variables, in particular the moment-angle relationship, which provides information about the dynamic joint stiffness and the energetic exchange. Interest is on walking, gait initiation, sit-to-stand. Clinical application concern motor disorders, in particular hemiplegia and cerebral palsy. Respiratory system bioengineering Opto-electronic Plethysmography, double body Plethysmography, forced oscillation technique for monitoring expiratory flow limitation, lung edema, lung recruitment/decrecruitment, breath by breath gas analysis, 3D reconstruction of human diaphragm by ultrasounds, quantification of gas trapping by quantitative CT, systems for clinical and home monitoring of respiratory function. Modelling of respiratory system (action of respiratory muscles; rib cage mechanics; estimation of mechanical properties of the respiratory system; cardiopulmonary interactions during exercise) Physiology and pathophysiology of the respiratory system during exercise, effects of flow limitation, mechanical ventilation, anesthesia, bronchodilation, rehabilitation. Applications in chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, asthma, adult and neonatal intensive care, neuromuscular disorders. CNS signal and image processing for rehabilitation monitoring The functional investigation of the CNS can be carried out by many different techniques and modalities ranging from functional imaging to multichannel signal recording (EEG, MEG). All of them are characterized by different spatial and temporal resolutions, levels of invasivity, capabilities of investigating specific brain regions and all of them take advantage from the growing digital processing capabilities. During the rehabilitation process the study of brain functionalities can provide great advantages for i) quantitative and objective evaluation of the CNS damage and of the residual functions that can be used and empowered during the rehabilitation process; 83 ii) monitoring of the CNS reorganization during the therapy: this is useful for obtaining a continuous, focused and personalized adjustment of the proper rehabilitation actions to be taken on the patient; iii) quantitative evaluation of the rehabilitation protocol; Recent new fields Recent developments have included Man-Machine Interface hardware/software systems and protocols based on the mutual interaction between the computer and the brain for the restoration of slow communication and simple device control.