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$144K grant will support UIndy stroke research

Groundbreaking study could spark new approaches to treatment

A University of Indianapolis researcher has been awarded a $144,000 state grant to study how a patient’s motor control and potential for rehabilitation can evolve in the initial months after a stroke.


The first-of-its-kind effort will use wireless sensors to track the physiological complexity of the subjects’ movements while walking, with readings taken at one, three and six months after stroke. The eventual goal is to understand common trends so that treatments can be tailored more specifically to the needs and abilities of individual patients at any given time, says Associate Professor Stephanie Combs-Miller, director of research at UIndy’s Krannert School of Physical Therapy.

“What we know is that people with stroke, their movements are much less complex,” says Combs-Miller, principal investigator for the two-year study that begins in July. “What we want to know is, does that change over time? What is their potential, and how do we need to change our interventions as their abilities change?”

The study is titled “Physiological Complexity of Gait Over the First Six Months Post Stroke,” and the financial support comes from the Indiana Spinal Cord and Brain Injury Research Fund, which was established by the state in 2007 and partners with the Indiana State Department of Health to encourage new research in the field.

To identify and recruit an anticipated 60 participants for the project, Combs-Miller will work with therapy teams at Franciscan St. Francis Health-Indianapolis on the city’s southeast side and Community Rehabilitation Hospital on the northeast side, providing a broad sample from throughout central Indiana.


Serving as co-principal investigators are statistics expert Elizabeth Moore, assistant professor in UIndy’s College of Health Sciences and School of Nursing; and biomechanics expert Eric Dugan, associate professor and director of the Center for the Study of Sport and Exercise at Seattle University.

Because many patients are still hospitalized during the first month after acute stroke, Combs-Miller and a research assistant will visit them on site to gather the initial data on their walking ability, balance and other basic functions, using small portable sensors that attach to various parts of the body and transmit readings wirelessly.

“We can collect motion analysis data, but we don’t need to be in a lab for it,” she says. Subsequent measures at three and six months after stroke will take place at the Movement Science Laboratory in the UIndy Health Pavilion, which opens this fall as the new home for the physical therapy program and other health-related disciplines.

One unique characteristic of the study is that it will follow the same group of participants and track their ability to adapt their movement patterns throughout a certain timespan, unlike previous research efforts that have assessed different groups of patients at various points after stroke.

“One would think physical therapists would know everything there is to know about walking, but there is so much we don’t know,” says Combs-Miller, who is also a UIndy alumna. “This is the first stage in a long line of research that we need to do.”