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Motion-capture helps heal kids in Ethiopia

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Two specialists from the Nuffield Orthopaedic Centre (NOC) have taken their expertise in gait analysis to help open a specialist laboratory in Ethiopia, which will help children with complex orthopaedic problems.

Dr Julie Stebbins, a biomedical engineer who runs OUH’s Oxford Gait Laboratory, and Dr Tim Theologis, a paediatric orthopaedic surgeon and specialist in cerebral palsy based at the NOC, use special motion-capture cameras, such as the ones used to in animated films or computer games, to track a patient’s movement. 

Reflective markers are placed all over the patient's body, allowing a camera that emits light to track their movement, and so that of the patient’s joints. The patient also walks on sensitive plates that provide further information. 

The technology is primarily used for patients with neuromuscular disorders, like cerebral palsy, to analyse their walking and to help determine the best treatment for each individual patient, as well as being able to monitor ongoing treatment.

Dr Stebbins said: "I do the clinical part of the research. We mostly see children who have problems walking, and we measure their gait with the cameras to help find treatment options for them."

While gait labs have become a routine part of the care of children in large paediatric orthopaedic centres in North American and Europe, the new laboratory in Ethiopia, donated to the charity CURE, is the first of its kind in Africa outside South Africa. 

It is anticipated that the lab will be valuable in the treatment of other conditions: "We mainly use the lab for walking disabilities, but in the future, implementation of the equipment can be extended for other uses, for example, arms. You can measure hand and arm function using the same camera," Dr Stebbins said.

Motion-capture helps heal kids in Ethiopia -

Pictured: Dr Julie Stebbins and other orthopaedic doctors with one of the Ethiopian gait lab's first patients (image: CURE Ethiopia)