Cal State LA receives federal grant to improve fitness in wheelchair users

February 16, 2017

California State University, Los Angeles has been awarded a $600,000 grant from the federal government to research the exercise needs of wheelchair users, specifically those with traumatic spinal cord injuries.

Cal State LA received the funding from the National Institute on Disability, Independent Living, and Rehabilitation Research, which provides grants to generate new disability and rehabilitation knowledge and promote its use and adoption.

Kinesiology Professor Stéfan Keslacy and his research team aim to improve fitness and reduce disease risk among those who are wheelchair-bound. The team will develop a mobile app that tracks muscle activity and provides feedback. They will also assess the impact of exercise on social participation and quality of life.

Members of the Cal State LA interdisciplinary team include Professors Ray de Leon of kinesiology, Christine Dy of kinesiology, Deborah Won of electrical and computer engineering, and Roxanna Pebdani of special education and counseling.

“A traumatic spinal cord injury is a devastating event with lifelong consequences,” said Keslacy, the principal investigator on the grant. “These individuals are more likely to be affected by chronic diseases due to their extreme sedentary situation. With our expertise in rehabilitation, our team plans to train the clients at the University’s Mobility Center in new methods of exercise.”

The Mobility Center is a service-learning based therapeutic exercise program located on the campus of Cal State LA.

The three-year grant will allow the University to collaborate with Dynofit, a medical device startup company. Dynofit is the maker of Flexdot, a wearable EMG sensor that measures muscle activation in those who are wheelchair-bound. The data will be correlated with blood biomarkers and serve as a foundation for recommendations of activity levels for wheelchair users’ optimal health. 

“We are hoping that this collaboration with Dynofit will result in a new mobile app that could help motivate participants to exercise and engage in their own healthcare and rehab,” Keslacy added.

The grant will also provide fellowships for 20 undergraduate and three graduate students per year over a three-year period.

“Cal State LA students will have the opportunity to be involved in every step of the project—from the training of the participants on campus, to data collection and data dissemination,” said Keslacy. “We are extremely happy that this grant will…help many of our students, and minority students in particular, to be involved in research.” 

Photo: From left to right, Cal State LA Professors Ray de Leon, Roxanna Pebdani, Christine Dy, and Stéfan Keslacy. (Credit: J. Emilio Flores/Cal State LA)

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Cal State LA is ranked number one in the nation based on the upward mobility of its students. Founded in 1947, Cal State LA is the premier public comprehensive university in the heart of Los Angeles and is dedicated to the mission of engagement, service, and the public good. The University serves more than 27,000 students and more than 247,000 distinguished alumni, who are as diverse as the region we serve. Led by an award-winning faculty, the University offers nationally recognized programs in science, the arts, business, criminal justice, engineering, nursing, education and the humanities.

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