Student researcher aims to rebuild body movement

When fourth-year student Benjamin Nudelman found out in the summer of 2014 that he had been selected to participate in Case Western Reserve University’s research program, SOURCE, he was elated.

“I was really excited,” said Nudelman. “[SOURCE] is a really prestigious program, and I knew that [research conducted as part of] it was more likely to receive funding because it is much more well-structured [than other programs].”

Nudelman’s particular area of interest—neuroprosthesis stimulation—is an advanced and quickly expanding field of study involving the use of high-tech devices to mimic the functions of biological organs, with the ultimate goal of restoring normal activity as much as possible in victims of serious physical impairments.

His specific research involves working with spinal cord injury patients who are paraplegic, meaning they have lost the ability to move parts of their bodies, aiming to create a system that can relay electrical signals very quickly to approximate those which would be sent by the brain.

“With the system, rather than relying on a walker, [the idea was] they would be able to move their arms or their legs on their own,” said Nudelman.

Nudelman carried out his research at the Advanced Platform Technology (APT) Center in the Veterans Affairs Hospital in Cleveland, working under Dr. Musa Audu, Associate Professor in the Department of Biomedical Engineering at Case and Principal Investigator at the APT Center.

Nudelman says he was first introduced to Audu by Dr. Ronald Triolo, professor of Orthopedics and Biomedical Engineering at CWRU and executive director at the APT Center, who was the first person Nudelman reached out to when he was beginning his research.

Nudelman’s zeal and proactivity in pursuing his goals led to his being given his own complex assignment, crucial to Audu’s overall posture control system: modeling the results of neuroprosthesis stimulation on a computer.

In order to do that, he first had to gather data, such as the mass and length of limbs. He then worked to create a database of that information, using previously established modelling formulae that he tested to make sure they would work.

“One of the best aspects of [the] research was that we were able to bring in actual subjects that had had treatment and see former paraplegics walk and regain control of their limbs,” he said. “The application of this research in real life was one of the most meaningful things for me. One of the main things motivating me was knowing that my research was instrumental in improving the quality of life of the patients, seeing with my own eyes the change in their lives.”

He also felt that he learned a lot and was then able to share that knowledge with others.

“Specifically for me, some researchers from the Case Alumni Association came in to see my research, and it definitely solidified the impact for me and helped me to show the alumni what direction current students at Case are going with their education,” said Nudelman. “And I don’t know if everyone gets to do that.”

Nudelman would encourage other students to apply to be a part of the SOURCE program, as he sees the application process as a learning experience in itself.

“There is so much to be gained from experiential learning outside of class,” said Nudelman.