RAatE 2010 is delighted to announce this year’s keynote speaker as Dr. Martin Ferguson-Pell.

Dr Martin Ferguson-Pell is the Dean of the Faculty of Rehabilitation Medicine at the University of Alberta, which is the only free standing faculty of rehabilitation medicine in Canada.

After graduating with a PhD in biomedical engineering Dr Ferguson-Pell was appointed lecturer at the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow.  In 1982 he relocated to New York and founded and directed the Centre for Rehabilitation Technology at Helen Hayes Hospital. He was also Associate Professor in Clinical Bioengineering in Rehabilitation at Columbia University and held an adjunct appointment in biomedical engineering at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. In 1995 Dr Ferguson-Pell was offered the founding appointment to the ASPIRE Professorial Chair in Neuromuscular Restoration and Rehabilitation at University College London. During this time he was also appointed Director of Research and Development at the Royal National Orthopaedic Hospital, a Board level position.

Dr. Ferguson-Pell’s background is in Biomedical Engineering and he is a registered Clinical Scientist. He has extensive experience working in clinical-academic settings developing engineering solutions to overcome barriers experienced by people with physical disabilities. He employs traditional scientific methods, engineering design as well as qualitative methods to provide a balanced approach to the development and translation of research that directly influences the independence of people with physical disabilities.

Current Research Areas:

  • Biomechanics of wheelchair propulsion relating to the risk of upper extremity over-use injury
  • Identification of pathological changes in tissues subjected to prolonged ischemia using non-invasive techniques such as tissue reflectance and nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy
  • Influence of osteogenic mediators on the rate of bone demineralisation in the acute phase of spinal cord injury
  • Development of non-invasive techniques for the assessment of muscle fibre composition and muscle activity associated with functional electrical stimulation
  • Design, development and evaluation of technologies for assisted living promoting increased independence and quality of life for people with functional limitations living in the community

At RAatE 2010, Dr Ferguson-Pell will be talking about Rehabilitation Engineering, asking whether it is an outdated concept. He says…

“I have been fortunate to live through much of the modern history of rehabilitation engineering.  Although I missed the very first RESNA meeting held in Washington DC in 1978, I did travel from Glasgow to attend the 2nd in Toronto in 1980, and still have the proceedings!

During the 1980s and early 1990s in the United States, rehabilitation engineering enjoyed an exciting trajectory, fuelled in part by substantial funding and visionary leadership from the US Dept. of Education National Institute for Handicapped Research (later to become National Institute for Disability and Rehabilitation Research) which funded over a dozen Rehabilitation Engineering Centers and a similar number of Rehabilitation Research and Training Centers.  Later they also established the Model Systems of Care, starting with spinal cord injury and later extending their scope to traumatic brain injury and burns.  Working in New York through this period I was privileged to witness the excellent work of these centers, as well as the Veterans’ Administration Research R&D program, as they help to define many of the advances in rehabilitation we enjoy today.

During the late 1980s and 1990 many of us felt a transition was needed to increase access to the advances and innovations being offered by a small number of elite centers.  It was time to translate, so that advanced services could be offered by clinicians (PTs, OTs and SLPs in particular) who were much more widely available that the small number of clinically-oriented rehabilitation engineers.  We coined the term Assistive Technology (replacing Rehabilitation Technology). The focus turned from custom-built solutions to much more sophisticated commercially available products that could be specified and delivered by specialist therapists.  The role of the rehabilitation engineer appeared to go into decline and the Assistive Technology Professional (ATP) emerged.

These changes were important in helping the delivery of assistive technology services to mature; but they carried with them a down-side.  The development of transformative engineering solutions became suppressed by service delivery pressures on rehabilitation engineers and ATPs employed to provide clinical services. Academically based biomedical/rehabilitation engineers became separated from everyday clinical problems.  The dialogue, as can be seen by comparing abstracts at RESNA conferences over the years, became increasing clinical and provider-centric, and much less technical and innovative. Rehabilitation engineering-led innovations started to stagnate and then went into decline.

In this talk at RAaTE I would like to review the future role of rehabilitation engineers. How should we re-establish the engineering and technical capacity that will be needed as we take on a new era in rehabilitation, with a focus on senior care?  How should our biomedical engineering programs in universities create research capacity and prepare our students for these opportunities?  How should our healthcare systems prepare for the role of rehabilitation engineers as members of the rehabilitation team, providing aging-in-place technology services for seniors?  Please join me in a discussion of these issues.”