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Giving hand surgery patients sense of place

Date

Scott Batum

SENSORY: Professor Gordon Waddington with the device that will measure how the brain senses finger placement.

SENSORY: Professor Gordon Waddington with the device that will measure how the brain senses finger placement. Photo: Rohan Thomson

Arthritis and hand surgery patients have new hope on the road to recovery, thanks to a device created in Canberra.

Dr Gordon Waddington, professor of physiology at the University of Canberra, created a machine to test the perception of feeling in hand surgery patients.

The device, called the Active Movement Extent Discrimination Apparatus, tests the patients by asking them to distinguish between small changes in distance.

The patients place their thumb and forefinger in the device and move in a pinching motion. They observe the different distances and are asked to distinguish between the distances when they are randomised.

Dr Waddington said the device was the first of its kind to measure perception in this way.

''My research looks at proprioception, which is basically how our body senses where it is in space, which is critical for our normal function,'' Dr Waddington said.

''Normal everyday activities like picking up a glass aren't possible unless these senses work in our body. This is the first time this approach has been used to measure proprioception.''

The device was developed over the course of two years by Dr Waddington and a number of PhD students.

The device is being used in Italy to test the recovery of hand surgery patients by University of Canberra's adjunct professor of orthopaedics and microsurgery, Dr Marco Lanzetta.

Dr Lanzetta is hopeful data gathered will be used as a rehabilitation tool.

''We are measuring the patient's ability to approach their fingertips precisely once they have had an operation,'' he said.

''The movement is very important. If you think about some of my patients like musicians, sportsmen, artists, painters, sculptors, they need to be able to finely control their finger movements.''

Dr Waddington said the device had the potential to be used for far more than just hand surgery patients.

''It could be used for assessing how good movement perception is for jobs that require really high-level skills, even potentially for measuring how good surgeons are,'' he said.

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