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MEAM Seminar: “Robot-assisted Imaging of Neuromuscular Function: New Insights on the Neural Substrates of Motor Control”

February 17, 2022 at 10:00 AM - 11:30 AM

Can we use robots to help humans learn a new motor skill, or to improve performance of a motor task? What are the neural substrates that support motor learning under physical interaction with external agents such as robots? How does repeated exposure to motor training induce plasticity in brain networks? These are fundamental neuroscience questions which have special relevance in multiple domains, such as neuromodulation, surgical training, and motor recovery after stroke, spinal cord injury, or traumatic brain injury. In this talk, I present methods that address these questions, combining MRI-compatible robotics with functional neuroimaging and advanced biosignal processing. I demonstrate two applications of these methods to understand the function of multiple brain areas associated with motor control and motor learning.

Over the past few years, my lab has developed a family of MRI-compatible robots for use with functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging to study the neural control of movements. In this talk, I present two systems, the MR-SoftWrist, a wrist exoskeleton capable of force feedback designed to study neural substrates involved in the control of wrist movements during externally imposed forces, and the MR-StretchWrist, a wrist robot designed to elicit stretch reflexes and study their neural correlates using fMRI. These MRI-compatible robots quantify function in the cortico-thalamic-cerebellar pathway involved in learning new motor tasks and quantify function in secondary motor pathways such as the reticulospinal tract involved in fast feedback responses. I detail how MRI-compatible robots and fMRI were combined to measure neural function associated with long-latency responses and to map the somatotopic organization of these responses of flexor and extensor muscles in the brainstem. Together, these tools demonstrate how robotics, functional imaging and neuroscience can be joined across disciplines to understand and perhaps eventually guide both normal function and the nervous system’s response to injury, disease, devices and rehabilitation.

Fabrizio Sergi

Assistant Professor, Department of Biomedical Engineering, University of Delaware

Fabrizio Sergi received the BS, MS, and PhD degrees in biomedical engineering from the Università Campus Bio-Medico di Roma, Rome, Italy. He is an assistant professor of biomedical engineering at the University of Delaware, where he directs the Human Robotics Lab, and he holds appointments in the Mechanical Engineering Department and in the Biomechanics and Movement Science Program. His research interests are on the development of robotic devices for physical interaction with humans and on their application in fundamental studies of motor control and in neurorehabilitation.

This seminar is jointly sponsored by: Mechanical Engineering, Bioengineering, the GRASP Laboratory, and Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation


February 17, 2022
10:00 AM - 11:30 AM
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Mechanical Engineering and Applied Mechanics
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Glandt Forum, Singh Center for Nanotechnology
3205 Walnut Street
Philadelphia, PA 19104 United States
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