Ellen Buckley, a PhD student based at the Sheffield Institute for Translational Neuroscience (SITraN), has written a blog for us about her experience of attending the World Congress of Biomechanics 2018 in Dublin.
The World Congress of Biomechanics is a gathering of academic researchers, clinical experts and industry partners that happens every four years. Covering the wide spectrum of biomechanics (biofluid, cell and molecular to tissue, organ and whole body) the conference is the largest and leading global event in the field. The 2018 conference, held at the Convention Centre Dublin in July, was expertly co-hosted by RCSI (Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland) and Trinity College Dublin in partnership with AMBER, the Science Foundation Ireland-funded materials science and bioengineering research centre.
Over 4000 delegates from 70 countries travelled to Dublin including a group of over 30 members, staff and students from the Insigneo Institute for in silico Medicine and the University of Sheffield. I joined them for my first international conference to give my first invited oral presentation.
I am a final year PhD student based in SITraN. My work within Insigneo focuses on the gait pattern of Cerebellar Ataxia, a rare neurological condition where degeneration of the cerebellum, the area of the brain which coordinates walking, leads to imbalance and an increased risk of falls. We have been conducting an observational clinical study to objectively quantify the gait changes that occur in this patient population and explore gait as a biomarker for disease progression.
However, as my presentation wasn’t until the last day of the conference, I took the opportunity to explore earlier sessions listening to researchers on a range of related subjects.
I heard about new tools being developed and other technologies we can repurpose for biomechanical research and therapies. For example, in the development of rehabilitation and training techniques, virtual reality and video games can incorporate visual stimuli into protocols, while exoskeletons and robotic devices look to be promising assistive approaches. Meanwhile, multiscale modelling techniques are becoming increasingly subject specific and many researchers are incorporating artificial intelligence and machine learning methods to classify their data.
There was also an interest in real-world activity data since laboratory setting gait tests can only go so far in representing how a subject performs normally. From smartphone data to physical activity monitoring, there is a wealth of data available if only we capture it, analyse it, know what to look for, and know how to use it.
For instance, one of the key clinically relevant problems of the conference was falls prediction and prevention which has a substantial cost to health care providers around the world, and the global economy. A whole host of approaches were described by researchers to assess postural stability and stepping strategies, with protocols varying from stair climbing, obstacle tasks, platform perturbations and dual-belt treadmills. But the take-away message from many speakers, was that although laboratory experiments are able to begin to quantify patient disability, assessment in the home environment can add invaluable information to a clinician’s arsenal. Perhaps with this approach we will be able to reduce the number of preventable falls through intervention while retaining quality of life for patients.
Presentation on gait assessments in Cerebellar Ataxia
Finally, we came to the last day of the conference, where during the afternoon session, “Mobile Monitoring of Biomechanical Phenomena”, I presented the preliminary results from our baseline gait assessments in Cerebellar Ataxia. I reported that as both spatiotemporal and upper body metrics of gait show promise as biomarkers for disease severity, we look forward to seeing the results from longitudinal assessments. The session was co-chaired by Insigneo’s Dr Claudia Mazzà with Dr Silvia Del Din (Newcastle University) and I was joined on the stage by Insigneo alumnus Dr Chris Buckley presenting his work on longitudinal gait changes in Parkinson’s Disease.
Other speakers covered topics such as algorithm validation and model calibration, autonomous classification and monitoring of gait in pathological and healthy populations using artificial intelligence and deep learning techniques making for a varied and interesting session of talks.
The studies and findings presented and discussed at the World Congress of Biomechanics by all delegates are truly capable of impacting the daily life of people all over the world. I am proud to have been given the opportunity to represent Insigneo and showcase our study on behalf of the participants who have taken part in it so far.