Doctor B. Goode

Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation, Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago

The chief academic officer at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago (RIC), Elliot Roth has three idols: Albert Einstein, Sigmund Freud, and Chuck Berry. Like Berry, Roth, who is 50, likes to sing and play the guitar—and Freud comes in handy when Roth confronts his patients' psychological issues. What about Einstein? "There is an Einstein quote that says there are two ways to live your life: One is as if nothing is a wonder, and the other is as if everything is a wonder"—a good philosophical foundation at a research institution where the marvelous can occur with great regularity.

Q. Is there anything new to report on the so-called bionic limb, developed at RIC by Dr. Todd Kuiken and others?
We're on a new generation of the artificial limb, which has more potential for different kinds of movements—more degrees of freedom. On the sensory side—an unexpected finding was that when you touched the individuals who had the procedure, they would say, "Boy, it feels like you're touching me on my wrist or on my elbow"—when of course they don't have one. That means that the sensory nerves [that were implanted], the nerves that control sensation, actually grew into that same area [where the procedure was performed]. One practical advantage is we may be able to work it out so that it actually feels like an individual is holding [an object].

Q. What is going on in language therapy?
Certain patients who have strokes and other neurologic conditions have a condition called aphasia, which means an inability to use language. We have been working with a software that uses computerized scripts. At the same time as patients are watching the words going by, they also see the computerized face of a person who is mouthing the words. So the individual has multiple stimuli: They can read the words; they can watch the person's face; and they also have sound, so they can hear it. One of the factors involved in improving language with people who have aphasia is practice, practice, and practice. So this is a computerized way of helping people to practice.

Q. What other new therapeutic devices are you using?
We have a gait or walking training device that we are very excited about called the KineAssist. The patient is held up by a harness connected to a robotic machine that follows behind them. If the patient looks like they are about to fall, the machine and the harness will catch them and they hang in midair. Our therapists like to do a lot of hands-on work: They touch the patients; they push them in one direction or another; they tell them how to adjust themselves. But what the therapists tell us is that they spend so much of their time holding the patient up, they don't get to do all the guidance. So this way we have a machine doing the grunt work. RIC was involved in the development and production of this device.

Q. Are you building them in house?
There is a small company, Kinea Design, that builds them. It was developed by clinicians here at RIC, together with engineers and physical therapists from Northwestern University. That's one really exciting thing that's happening here: It's not only that we have scientists developing new devices and techniques, but also that we have the patients to stimulate the thinking of those scientists.


Photograph: Katrina Wittkamp