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For Schmit, the clinical aspect is key, which is why he asked Dr. Allison Hyngstrom, assistant professor of physical therapy in the College of Health Sciences, to join the research team. “Having a physical therapist is critical,” Schmit says. “Allie brings a clinical perspective to this project that is essential.” Hyngstrom, who has a doctorate in neuroscience along with her physical therapy degree, has long studied motor impairment, muscle fatigue and rehabilitative treatment for

“Ultimately we’re trying to find out the level at which training programs will improve motor response and blood flow.” To help answer the blood flow issue, Schmit turned to another former collaborator, Dr. Alexander Ng, an associate professor of exercise science who is an expert on blood flow, specifically as it relates to exercise under impaired conditions. “After spinal cord injury, all of the normal pathways become disrupted,” Ng says. “That’s what makes this research so important.”

Dr. Allison Hyngstrom, Assistant Professor, Physical Therapy

“The results of this study will have implications for exercise training to improve functional movement — including walking — in these patients,” Schmit says. “We’re looking at issues like blood flow, cardiovascular health and muscular activity, all done in a clinical setting.” people suffering from strokes. She worked with Schmit before, and when he asked her to collaborate again, it was an easy decision. “Brian is the principal investigator, but the reality is you can’t really do it by yourself anymore,” Hyngstrom says. “This collaboration is so productive. Often you’ll have one person who has a stronger voice and tends to dictate the project, but in this case it’s a true partnership.” Because the mobility issues in people with incomplete SCI are similar to those who’ve had a stroke, many of the same tools and techniques can be used to test and gather data. One such tool, housed in the Physical Therapy Department, is a split-belt treadmill, one of a handful in the United States. The treadmill’s unique design can measure the force output of an individual’s legs independently, allowing Hyngstrom to measure the quality of movement. “We’re looking for data like — Can they generate sufficient propulsive force? How strong are the leg and hip in relation to the ankle? — for each individual,” she says.

While the research participant is exercising on Hyngstrom’s split-belt treadmill, Ng uses ultrasound to look at the arteries and monitor blood vessel reactions. “We want the vessels to get larger when they’re exercising so we can see the blood feeding the muscle,” he says. With several participants undergoing a variety of tests during a long period of time, there are massive amounts of data collected. Schmit reached out to yet another former research partner, Dr. Naveen Bansal, professor of mathematics, statistics and computer science, to help process it. “In the past, my research was mostly based in theory,” Bansal says. “Now, I see myself as the expert whose role is to formulate problems from different disciplines into statistical frameworks. Problems like this are difficult to solve without cross-disciplinary collaboration.” Schmit agrees. “Biomedical engineering is collaborative by its very nature,” he says. “As long as we can solve the problem, that’s all that matters.”

Dr. Alexander Ng, Associate Professor, Exercise Science

Dr. Naveen Bansal, Professor, Mathematics, Statistics and Computer Science

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Discover Research 2014  
Discover Research 2014  

Every spring DISCOVER: Marquette University Research and Scholarship showcases some of the most interesting research happening on Marquette'...