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Fredericton, N.B. – Cutting edge research supported by the New Brunswick Health Research Foundation (NBHRF) is exploring how artificial intelligence can be used to make the daily lives of people with amputations easier.

A member of the Fredericton Chamber of Commerce, the NBHRF is an innovation enabler and supports a wide range of health research projects from the ground up by providing initial funding and offering critical guidance to researchers, connecting them to funding sources and helping expand their network. Projects developed with the NBHRF’s help can change lives, strengthen the health care system, and lead to new innovative health care solutions, business practices and new products. 

The NBHRF invests heavily in research at the University of New Brunswick, including its Institute of Biomedical Engineering (IBME). The IBME is one of three international leaders in prosthesis control. Since 1965, it has been producing leading research and real-world solutions for patients.

In 2013, funding from the NBHRF and the IBME’s stellar reputation attracted Dr. Jonathon Sensinger to New Brunswick’s capital city. Today he is the director of the IBME.

“Jon is a world leader in prosthetics and artificial intelligence,” says Damon Goodwin, chief executive officer of the NBHRF. “He’s a top talent and the NBHRF is a proud supporter of his work.”

An innovator in the field of biomedical engineering, Sensinger was recruited from the USA’s top rehabilitation hospital. Located in Chicago, these days it’s known as the Shirley Ryan Ability Lab. The NBHRF provided start-up funding for a large project that eventually turned into a $2.5-million contract from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, examining how humans synthesize data in the decisions that they are making. The NBHRF has also provided him with grants to help fund the students who work with the IBME as well as support for grant applications. In 2016, the NBHRF named Sensinger its Young Researcher of the Year.

He recently presented at a Parliamentary Health Research Caucus event in Ottawa about artificial intelligence and machine learning. He spoke to elected officials, policy-makers and key industry stakeholders about the use of AI in electronic medical records and large data sets.

Sensinger has always been interested in human/robot interactions and first learned about the field of prosthetics while in middle school. His career has been devoted to making prostheses easier to control. These days, he’s exploring how AI can be used to make a prosthesis more adaptable and perform better in unexpected situations.

“Prostheses give people with an amputation hope that they can restore lost abilities needed for activities of daily life,” Sensinger says. “Nonetheless, more than half of the amputees who would be candidates for an upper limb prosthesis reject them because they are slow, imprecise and complicated to operate.”

Sensinger thinks this can be overcome by giving the AI in the prosthesis the ability to learn about how amputees live and move. In his research, Sensinger and his team are working with clinicians and amputees to introduce the AI to unexpected situations so that it learns and responds to the signals it’s receiving more effectively.

He is also exploring the concept of curious AI, which he thinks has uses in health care beyond prosthetics. Sensinger says curious AI could be used to predict patient outcomes, improve diagnosis, and change health care policies to increase system performance.

“AI is really good at leveraging large data sets to address complex problems,” he says and adds that his institute’s been working on ways to create a digital vault for health data to test AI learning techniques, accelerate rehabilitation, and enable healthy aging.

Media Contact:
Patricia Seaman
New Brunswick Health Research Foundation

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