Ph.D students work to improve physical health for adults with disabilities

Biomedical engineering (BME) Ph.D students at the University of Connecticut are paving the way in advanced technologies to improve the physical health of adults with severe physical and intellectual disabilities. (Amar Batra/The Daily Campus)

Biomedical engineering (BME) Ph.D students at the University of Connecticut are paving the way in advanced technologies to improve the physical health of adults with severe physical and intellectual disabilities. 

Anna Roto, a BME Ph.D student, is working to create a dynamic standing device, like a supportive harness, for adults with severe cerebral palsy.

Cerebral palsy is a disorder of the brain. It affects a person’s muscle tone and their ability to control body movements, according to cerebralpalsy.org. eople who are affected with cerebral palsy often can’t walk or move the way most people can.

“The ultimate goal for us is to improve quality of life while keeping it non invasive,” Malavika Suresh, a master’s BME student working with Roto, said.

Participants using the harness typically have not been able to stand their entire life, Roto said.

Along with the dynamic standing device, Roto is creating a rehab program that incorporates the harness with electromyography (EMG) and electroencephalogram (EEG) sensors, which can help characterize the relationship between brain and muscular activity.

These EMG and EEG sensors, Roto said, are helpful to determine if there is a correlation between brain and muscular activity. In less severe cases of cerebral palsy there is a correlation. However, the literature on cerebral palsy is unclear whether there is a correlation in more severe cases.

Roto said that she hopes to use the device in a community setting, where the adults are living or attending day programs, to make their living situation more comfortable.

For Roto, personal experience was the main influence to create this device.

“Really close people in my life have been affected with the disability. It really opened my eyes to some of the issues they have to deal with in their daily life,” Roto said. “I saw how BME could be used to impact those disabilities in a very positive way.”

Roto is already thinking of other uses for the dynamic standing device. She said that she has thought about the possibility of using the harness to help people who may have difficulties moving for a long period of time exercise.

According to Roto funding for her research is coming from personal grants as well as grants given by associations that specifically fund cerebral palsy research.

The project is currently undergoing an IRB review for an intensive exploratory case study. Roto said she hopes to finish that by this summer, the continue with a larger more statistically significant study within the northeast region with help from master’s students like Suresh.

Roto said she has been working with BME associate professor in residence, Krystyna Gielo-Perczack, for two years now.

“Dr. GP has been great. She’s the reason why I’ve been able to do my project. She supports me fully and always listens to my ideas.”


Emma Krueger is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at emma.krueger@uconn.edu.