A R10 million grant to purchase a laboratory-based system to enhance interdisciplinary research of human functional performance was recently awarded to Stellenbosch University (SU) by the National Research Foundation (NRF) as part of the National Equipment Programme for 2015*.
“We need comprehensive multidimensional data to unlock new knowledge about the complexities of movement control, functional impairments and to design evidence-based, innovative approaches to optimise human function,” said Prof Quinette Louw, the principal investigator for the funding application and professor in Physiotherapy at the Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences (FMHS). Such research projects will demand trans-disciplinary approaches and teams. “This will greatly expand the university’s capacity for high impact research which is locally relevant, yet internationally competitive,” said Louw.
“The impact of this field of research into physical morbidity caused by chronic disease, aging, disability and trauma/injuries could yield meaningful health and economic outcomes for our communities. In terms of research training, it provides an ideal platform to attract, train and bring together young scientists from diverse disciplines in a futuristic, cutting edge field of research,” Prof Louw said.
Dr John Cockcroft, managing staff scientist at the unit for Human Movement Analysis in SU’s Central Analytical Facility (CAF), highlighted the uniqueness and interdisciplinary nature of the new equipment. “This integrated continuous measurement capability is currently not available in South Africa,” Cockcroft said. “It will give us the opportunity to provide unique analytical services to a diverse range of researchers throughout the country and continent.”
The system will be installed in one of the two laboratories within the Unit for Human Movement Analysis, one of which is on the Tygerberg Campus and the other in Stellenbosch.
The new equipment provides integrated neurophysiological and biomechanical analyses while participants execute movement tasks on a state-of-the-art instrumented treadmill surrounded by infra-red motion capture cameras. An array of sensors can be attached to the body to record time-synchronised metrics on brain activity (wireless 128-channel active EEG), muscle activity (wireless 16 channel), cardiopulmonary function (spiroergometry) and musculoskeletal biomechanics (3D stereophotogrammetry).
The twin-belt treadmill records ground reaction forces in three dimensions on individual feet, and can be operated at variable inclinations (uphill and downhill) as well as with asynchronous belt speeds (speeds that are not coordinated in time to simulate tripping or retrain asymmetries). This means that it can facilitate test scenarios which are not possible with standard floor-embedded force platforms, as well as provide data for an unlimited number of successive steps.
*The National Research Foundation (NRF) has initiated, in partnership with the Department of Science and Technology (DST), the National Equipment Programme (NEP) to develop and support research infrastructure in South Africa.