The MacREAL lab is a biomechanical research facility that combines laboratory-based measurements of body function and clinical assessment. The lab has a nine-camera optoelectronic motion capture system (Optotrak, Northern Digital Inc.), which are high precision cameras, similar to those used for game developing and movies, that accurately record human motion. There are two force plates (AMTI) embedded within the floor of the lab along a walkway that are synchronized with the cameras. The force plates allow us to measure forces acting on the body during activities of daily living, like walking.  Once the information from the cameras and force plates are put together, we use biomechanical modelling techniques to estimate joint forces and joint angular movement patterns during dynamic tasks such as walking.  This information can be used in a variety of clinical and research scenarios.

One area that challenges researchers is mobility impairment in older adults.  When we walk, muscles support the weight of our body, maintain balance and move the limbs, and age is associated with decreased ability to comply with these tasks, threatening safe locomotion and decreasing mobility.  Thus, understanding the changes in walking biomechanics in this age group would allow us to develop treatment strategies to improve balance and mobility and ultimately increase the quality of life of older Canadians.

We have just completed building a lean & release system that will help us understand the ability that older people have to recover balance after an external perturbation, which is an important skill for fall prevention.  The system is composed of a loading cell that controls the releasing of the body, simulating a postural perturbation, as when standing on an accelerating bus, or being nudged in a crowd.  The floor is instrumented with three additional force plates that measure, among many other things, the time the person takes to react and how the person reacts from the perturbation, by taking a step forward or by reaching out with arms and hands, for example.  In addition, by combining the lean & release system with the motion capture system, we will further understand what joint parameters might be constraining the perturbation response and reducing the balance abilities of the individuals.  This information could be used to develop interventions to prevent falls and to promote mobility.

MacREAL Researchers

Dr. Marla Beauchamp

Dr. Beauchamp is a Physical Therapist and Assistant Professor in the School of Rehabilitation Science at McMaster.  She is also an Associate Member in the Department of Medicine.  Marla completed her PhD in Rehabilitation Science at the University of Toronto (2012) and her postdoctoral training in outcomes measurement at Harvard Medical School in Boston.

The overall objective of Dr. Beauchamp’s research program is to develop evidence-based strategies to improve mobility among older adults. Her research has two key arms related to this aim: 1) advancing the assessment of mobility problems among older adults; and 2) personalized rehabilitative interventions to optimize late-life mobility. Dr. Beauchamp’s ongoing research is supported by grants from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR), Canada’s Aging and Technology Network (AGE-WELL NCE), the Canadian Respiratory Research Network (CRRN), and the Labarge Centre for Mobility in Aging within the McMaster Institute for Research on Aging (MIRA).

Dr. Janie Wilson

Dr. Janie Wilson is a Professor in the McMaster University Department of Surgery and an associate member of the School of Biomedical Engineering and the Department of Mechanical Engineering. She recently came to McMaster from Dalhousie University, where she was the Director of the Dynamics of Human Motion laboratory and ran a multidisciplinary research program in orthopaedic and musculoskeletal biomechanics. Her research focusses on biomechanical and statistical/big data modeling for human movement biomechanics, with a particular emphasis on understanding the role of joint level mechanics in the development, progression and treatment of osteoarthritis with joint replacement surgery. Her research also includes modeling of orthopaedic outcomes and intraoperative orthopaedic data through computer-assisted surgery. In addition to laboratory-based research, she has been spearheading incorporation of motion capture technologies into orthopaedic clinics for direct translation of research at point of care sites. She has a particular interest in understanding sex-specific differences in mobility and orthopaedic outcomes, and mobility decline with aging and frailty. She is a Fellow of the International Combined Orthopaedic Research Societies, Past President of the Canadian Orthopaedic Research Society, and has leadership roles in the Orthopaedic Research Society, Bone and Joint Canada, and the Canadian Society for Biomechanics.