Logo: University of Southern California

Viterbi School a Partner in New Disability and Rehabilitation Research Effort

USC and Rancho Los Amigos will research ways to use technology to help disabled elders
Eric Mankin
October 08, 2008 — The USC Viterbi School Department of Biomedical Engineering will carry out one of  the four initial projects planned for the newly established  Rehabilitation Engineering Research Center for Technologies for Successful Aging with Disability.

Associate Professor Francisco Valero-Cuevas will research "Dexterous Manipulation with the Fingertips," seeking to “ develop a reliable method to assess hand function and dexterity as well as extend the technology to enjoyable immersive activities or games that help patients analyze and improve hand and finger movement.”

Valero-Cuevas, a nationally recognized expert on the biomechanics and neurological control of hands, recently came to USC from Cornell University. He also recently won a $2 million, four-year grant to study "Reverse Engineering the Human Hand," funded by the National Science Foundation Emerging Frontiers in Research and Innovation Office.
Francisco Valero-Cuervas

USC is collaborating with Rancho Los Amigos National Rehabilitation Center on the new center, funded by the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research Rehabilitation Engineering Research Center with a $4.75 million 5-year grant. 

The purpose of the new center to study the challenges of growing older with disabilities and the positive effects that new technologies can have on independence, health and quality of life, according to its director, Professor of Biiokinesiology and Physical Therapy Carolee Winstein.

The center brings together clinicians, researchers, policy experts, and innovators from various sectors of USC including the School of Dentistry’s Divisions of Biokinesiology and Physical Therapy and Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy; the Davis School of Gerontology, the Viterbi School of Engineering and its Information Sciences Institute; the Rossier School of Education, the Keck School of Medicine, the Stevens Institute for Innovation,  and the Institute for Creative Technologies.

“USC is particularly good at harnessing multidisciplinary efforts,” said Winstein. “Everyone is learning from each other, and our research and development is anchored with patients and consumers. We form a tremendous team.”

The team of researchers is optimistic about the impact the RERC will have on future patients who are aging with and into disability. The disability groups who are target beneficiaries of the new program include adults with Cerebral Palsy, chronic spinal chord injury, traumatic brain injury, stroke, Parkinson’s disease, osteoarthritis affecting the hands and fingers, and individuals aging who use a manual wheelchair for mobility.

It is estimated that 41% of senior citizens are living with a disability, according to the 2006 American Community Survey of Disability Status Report.