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Simulation reveals how body repairs balance after damage
Date:9/25/2007

ATLANTA (September 25, 2007) Your body goes to a lot of trouble to make sure you stay upright. But when the brains neural pathways are impaired through injury, age or illness, muscles are deprived of the detailed sensory information they need to perform the constant yet delicate balancing act required for normal movement and standing.

With an eye towards building robots that can balance like humans, researchers at Georgia Tech and Emory University have created a computer simulation that sheds new light on how the nervous system reinvents its communication with muscles after sensory loss. The findings could someday be used to better diagnose and rehabilitate patients with balance problems (through normal aging or diseases such as Multiple Sclerosis or Parkinsons) by retraining their muscles and improving overall balance. The research will be published in the October issue of Nature Neuroscience.

The ultimate goal of rehabilitation is for patients to find the best way to adapt to their particular deficit. This system may help predict what the optimum combination of muscle and nerve activity looks like for each patient, helping patients and doctors set realistic goals and speeding recovery, said Lena Ting, lead researcher on the project and an assistant professor in the Wallace H. Coulter Department of Biomedical Engineering at Georgia Tech and Emory University.

In a body without balance impairment, the nervous system collects sensory information from all over the body (skin, ears, feet, arms, eyes, etc.) and transmits this information to the muscles that control balance. When that information changes through the introduction of something like a strong wind, a raised crack in the pavement or an accidental bump from a nearby stranger, the nervous system sends the new information to the muscles and they adjust accordingly to maintain the bodys balance.

Impairments and injuries to the nervous system or the senses that report to
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Contact: Megan McRainey
megan.mcrainey@icpa.gatech.edu
404-894-6016
Georgia Institute of Technology
Source:Eurekalert

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