UTech, Jamaica and University of Pennsylvania Collaborate for Research on Capacity Building in Robot-Mediated Rehabilitation Technologies

Dr. Michelle Johnson, Assistant Professor of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation at the University of Pennsylvania (UPENN), USA making her presentation on “Robot-Assisted Stroke Rehabilitation for Developed and Developing Countries,” during a lecture held  Tuesday, October 23, 2018 at the FENC Conference Room, Papine Campus.

Jamaica’s capacity for innovation in rehabilitation technology to improve functional outcomes after a stroke, is being significantly boosted through a partnership between the University of Technology, Jamaica and the University of Pennsylvania, USA.  The two universities in November 2017 signed a non-disclosure agreement to form a multidisciplinary research team to build capacity for the development of robot-mediated rehabilitative technologies resulting from dysfunction caused by cardiovascular disease and stroke.

As part of this partnership, USA based, Jamaican Engineer  Dr. Michelle Johnson who is Assistant Professor of physical medicine and rehabilitation at the University of Pennsylvania (UPENN) and research collaborator with UTech, Jamaica, delivered  a public lecture on the specialised area of “Robot-Assisted Stroke Rehabilitation for Developed and Developing Countries” at a presentation organised by the Faculty of Engineering and Computing, University of Technology, Jamaica on Tuesday, October, 23, 2018 at the Papine Campus.  Dr. Johnson’s research currently focuses on using robotics to understand arm dysfunction and recovery after brain injury.

Dr. Johnson is one of few females in this specialized area of Engineering. She holds a PhD in Mechanical Engineering, with an emphasis in mechatronics, robotics, and design, from Stanford University and completed a NSF-NATO post-doctoral fellowship at the Advanced Robotics Technology and Systems Laboratory at the Scuola Superiore Sant’Anna in Italy.

At UPENN, Dr. Johnson directs the Rehabilitation Robotic Research and Design Laboratory located at the Pennsylvania Institute of Rehabilitation Medicine (PIRM) at UPENN’S, School of Medicine. Her lab specializes in the design, development, and therapeutic use of novel, affordable, intelligent robotic assistants for rehabilitation with special focus on the neuroscience involved in the process of rehabilitation.

In her lecture, Dr. Johnson emphasized the important role that engineers must play in connecting to the health space and especially to rehabilitation. She explained that the prevalence of communicable and non-communicable diseases which she noted is accounting for approximately 68% of all deaths globally and predicted to increase to73% by the year 2020, as well as cardiovascular diseases accounting for about 30 % of NCD deaths, is motivating further research  in the development of therapeutic robotics. 

She noted that a significant number of the global population surviving NCDs often times suffer from disabilities and various levels of physical paralysis and cognitive impairment which impede independence.  She noted such examples as amputation and blindness resulting from diabetes and stroke resulting from high blood pressure. Dr. Johnson asserted that technology can help to build the rehabilitation gap between developed and developing countries like Jamaica.

In her presentation she showed several examples of therapy robots including pioneering technologies from her own lab, that are making a difference in the treatment of neurological disorders such as stroke and cerebral palsy, as well as assistive robots that are being used as prosthetics to replace a lost limb. 

Dr. Johnson who has been working with occupational therapists and engineers worldwide, emphasised the role of engineers in “designing technology to be able to meet the needs of those who are treating patients…from an engineering stand point, we need to be able to study the interactions that are happening in the rehabilitation department so that we can understand how to build these robots better,” she said.

Professor Felix Akinladejo, Associate Dean, Graduate Studies and Research, FENC and research collaborator with UPENN chaired the lecture.  He noted that the collaboration with UPENN is good for the University of Technology, Jamaica, underscoring that we should not underestimate the work that is being done in this area and other areas of research which can have a profound impact on society.

Dr. Paul Ivey, Associate Vice President, Graduate Studies, Research and Entrepreneurship  in his remarks said that he was pleased that the partnership between the two universities had matured to this point, adding that he is excited about the potential and possibilities of the research to be undertaken.  Dr. Ivey also noted that the research will provide UTech, Jamaica students with the opportunity to see the correlation between what they are studying and the possibilities of making a real difference in the lives of people through the application of science.

Mr. Alwyn Johnson, (left) Lecturer, FENC and Dr. Michelle Johnson explain the functionalities of the Therapy Drive device to students.  The Therapy Drive is used to collect information from a patient recovering from a stroke to assist the therapist to improve or make changes to the rehabilitative process as the patient’s recovery progresses.

Mr. Alwyn Johnson, (right), Lecturer,  FENC  discusses the functionalities of the prototype with members of faculty, from left, Dr. Milton Richards, Lecturer, Electrical Engineering, Mr. Dwaine Hibbert, Lecturer, Electrical Engineering and Dr. Andrew Isaacs, Vice Dean, FENC following Dr. Johnson’s lecture.


Michelle Beckford (Mrs.)
Corporate Communications Manager
University of Technology, Jamaica
Telephone: 970-5299
Email: mbeckford@utech.edu.jm