Neuromechanical Principles of Locomotor Learning in Real and Virtual Environments

Date(s) - 04/09/2018
3:00 pm

James Finley, Ph.D., Assistant Professor, Division of Biokinesiology and Physical Therapy, Department of Biomedical Engineering, Neuroscience Graduate Program, University of Southern California

Motor skill acquisition is the basis of a broad class of rehabilitation interventions for people post-stroke, individuals with spinal cord injury, and people with Parkinson’s disease. However, although there is a rich literature examining the processes underlying skill acquisition in tasks that involve the upper extremities, there still remain questions about the factors that influence skill acquisition in whole-body behaviors such as walking. Here, I will share recent work from our group addressing two important aspects of skill learning during human walking. First, I will highlight a series of studies that seek to identify how walking speed, metabolic cost, and dynamic balance interact to regulate how healthy individuals and people post-stroke choose to walk. This work has direct implications for gait rehabilitation and may also apply to other populations known to have gait asymmetries such amputees or people with Parkinson’s disease. Second, I will share our recent work developing novel approaches for locomotor training that use immersive virtual reality to enhance skill acquisition and promote the transfer of learning to the real world. These interventions leverage recent advances in game design, interactive technology, and motion capture to allow multiple patient populations to practice advanced walking skills such as turning and obstacle negotiation in a safe, interactive environment.  

James Finley is an assistant professor in the Division of Biokinesiology and Physical Therapy, the Department of Biomedical Engineering, and the Neuroscience Graduate Program at the University of Southern California. Dr. Finley received his bachelor’s degree in Mechanical Engineering from Florida A&M University in 2004 and his doctoral degree in Biomedical Engineering from Northwestern University in 2010. Following his doctoral training, Dr. Finley completed a postdoctoral fellowship in Neuroscience at Johns Hopkins University. Dr. Finley and his research team use experimental studies and computational models to understand how the neuromuscular system and environment interact to influence mobility in both healthy individuals and in individuals with neuromotor impairments such as stroke and Parkinson’s disease. His work relies on principles of engineering, neuroscience, biomechanics, and exercise physiology to ultimately design more effective interventions to improve mobility