Scratch your nose. Write a text message. Reach for a glass of water.
Most people take these simple movements – the behavior of the brain and hands – for granted. But little is actually known about how the brain communicates with the upper limbs of the body to create such behaviors, said Scott Frey, chairman of the Miller family for cognitive neuroscience at the University of Missouri.
Frey’s interest in brain-hand communication began as a child after his mother was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis or MS, a disease that affects the brain and spinal cord. As his mother’s condition worsened, he became acutely aware of the complexity of the body’s nervous system and how much a person’s normal daily life depended on his proper function, including the use of human hands.
Now, as the director of MU’s Rehabilitation Neuroscience Laboratory, Frei is studying how a person’s brain reacts to the loss of an arm, literally or functionally.
“I was interested in how the brain controls the hand in my youth because I was raised by a single mother who suffered from MS,” Frei said. “She really struggled with things that most of us take for granted – balance, walking and unfortunately hand work. I grew up going to various meetings with my mother and I remember being aware of how vital it is to have functional hands to be an independent person. As an only child, in many cases I was literally in my mom’s arms. “
Frei developed a technique that involves the use of small wireless sensors, similar to wearable commercial fitness devices, to collect data on the use of limbs and prostheses in amputated arms. He has now received a $ 1.5 million grant from the U.S. Department of Defense to use these sensors to gather information on how people with severe upper limb injuries – which do not include amputations – function in everyday life.
Clinicians can evaluate people in a clinic or laboratory to try to get an idea of the extent to which people can function, but we don’t really know how people really function when they go home. As you can imagine, hand injuries are real challenges to people’s daily functions, because we use our hands for almost everything. So we thought it would be useful to have a direct insight into how people react to treatment in their daily lives and everyone reacts differently. “
Scott Frey, Chair of the Miller Family in Cognitive Neuroscience, University of Missouri
Frey will collaborate with an interdisciplinary team of clinicians-scientists from Johns Hopkins University, Ohio State University and Washington University in St. Louis. Louis to compare the standardized ways in which clinicians evaluate the behavior and functioning of hands in a clinic or laboratory in relation to the actual use that people use limbs in their daily lives.
This information will also help the manual surgeons in these partner institutions to make better informed decisions and to be able to personalize the treatment and recovery of the individual according to their daily needs. Clintin Davis-Stober, a professor of psychological sciences at MU, will also collaborate with Frey on the development of advanced data modeling based on the data they receive.
“This method really allows us to see how people react to treatment, how people recover from injuries, how much they use an injured limb compared to a healthy one, and we monitor all these changes over time,” Frey said. “We will look at a group of 60 people with limb trauma and evaluate them over a continuous seven-day period each year for three years. This is the first study to use this type of technology with this population and will also follow it along the longitudinal path.”
Frey, who has worked on how the brain controls the hands for more than two decades, is still finding ways to maintain his enthusiasm.
“I am increasingly migrating my work to the border between basic science – how something works to understand how it works – where it comes across how we can start using that knowledge in interventions to improve the quality of life of people with disabilities,” he said. Free. “The sweet spot for my job that makes me excited and motivated is really an attempt to select research questions that can have important implications for my clinical colleagues and how they treat their patients.
University of Missouri-Columbia