DoD and NIH $6.5MM Grants to Integrate 3-D Sensor Technology ‘Defining Moment’ for SRI

Posted: October 18, 2021
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William Marras

Researchers at The Ohio State University Spine Research Institute are hoping they have found the solution to a medical disability that has plagued humans for centuries: chronic back pain. Two grants from the Department of Defense and the National Institutes of Health totaling $6.5 million are banking on the results.

“Even though the cost to treat back pain has gone up 300 percent in the past 20 years, the results are no better,” says William Marras, the Honda Chair in the Department of Integrated Systems Engineering and the Director of the Spine Research Institute (SRI). “In the U.S. alone, we spend $100 billion each year to treat people with back pain.”

The SRI’s solution: modern technology. Wearable, 3-D sensors are placed on the middle back and pelvis to measure the motion of the back or as Dr. Marras says, “how they get from a starting position to an ending position.”

The motion, as seen in people with back pain and people with no back pain, serves as a metric. “There are ways to tell if they are exacerbating their systems. They also are predictive as to where they are with an injury,” Dr. Marras says. “We use this as a measure to phenotype people and determine different treatments.”

From there, doctors can decide if drugs, physical therapy or injections will work best for the patient.

“Right now, that’s all trial and error,” Dr. Marras says. The SRI’s approach customizes treatment to the patient.

The technique has been developed as a standard test, which can be performed in a doctor’s office in 10 minutes. The patient is then reassessed periodically. The test can determine if a patient’s physical ability is more or less severe than described. It can be determined, for example, if a pilot is trying to perform tasks while suffering from debilitating back pain, which could have catastrophic results.

The 3-D sensor applications have received special “breakthrough technology” approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which will enable it to be implemented for treatment more rapidly.

The $3.4 million DoD grant applies to “A Wearable Spine Health System for Military Readiness Assessment,” while the NIH BACPAC funded a $3.1 million grant for “The Spine Phenome Project – Enabling Technology for Personalized Medicine.

“This is one of the defining moments for this fine institute,” Dr. Marras says. “This is where we’ve always dreamed of building up to, so we’re very excited.”

Story by Nancy Richison

Category: Faculty