Pinoy scholar develops ‘Iron Man’-like therapy device for stroke patients

By Edd K. Usman

Help is on the way, hopefully soon, in the rehabilitation of stroke victims through an Iron Man-like device invented by a Filipino graduate student.

Newton Agham scholar Paul Dominique Baniqued with his robotic arm for physical therapy

Newton Agham scholar Paul Dominique Baniqued with his robotic arm for physical therapy

The apparatus, called “EEG-driven soft robotic hand exoskeleton for neurohabilitation,” was developed by Paul Dominique Baniqued of De La Salle University.

Baniqued is one of the 25 awardees of the 2018 batch of the Newton Agham Program, a joint undertaking between the United Kingdom and the Philippines.

Baniqued, who will take his three-year PhD studies at the University of Leeds in West Yorkshire, England, said his research at DLSU involved developing “a wearable robotic hand that can be used for the physical therapy of stroke and injured victims.”

“When a person experiences stroke or brain injury, certain parts of the brain will not be able to control the muscles of his/her upper extremities (particularly the arm and the hand,” he said.

Explaining the principle behind physical therapy, the young researcher said this is done to perform repetitive and task-oriented exercises to rewire the pathways of the brain and regain control of the muscles.

“With the use of a wearable robotic exoskeleton, such as my device, we will be able to accurately perform physical therapy exercises concerning the fine movements of the hand such as pinching or grasping,” Baniqued said confidently.

He already designed a prototype for the robotic arm exoskeleton at DLSU in a project called “Agapay Project” which the DOST’s Philippine Council on Health Research and Development (PCHRD) funded.

Through the Newton Agham scholarship, Baniqued will continue his research in England on bio-robotics systems neuroscience while taking a PhD in Mechanical Engineering. He will also try to develop a software to run his invention.

“This time, I will use brain signals via electroencephalography (or EEG) to control the robotic hand exoskeleton,” he said.

Now on its fourth year, the Newton Agham Program has awarded P1.2 billion (18.4 million British pounds), including the 2018 funding of P270 million (4 million British pounds) for 22 doctorate scholars, 60 innovation fellowships, and 14 large-scale three-year research grants.

On Thursday, Jan. 11, at the British Embassy in McKinley Hill, Taguig City, British Ambassador Daniel Pruce led the recognition rites for the 25 awardees, who will all travel to the United Kingdom to pursue their respective interest in science and innovation.

He said program is implemented by the British Embassy in Manila, with full support from the British government in partnership with the British Council.

In the Philippines, the partners in the Newton Agham are the Department of Science and Technology (DOST), Commission on Higher Education (CHED), and Department of Agriculture (DA), UK’s envoy to the Philippines said.

British Ambassador Daniel Pruce

British Ambassador Daniel Pruce

In an interview, Pruce noted the joint program has been “very, very successful,” saying it “reflects the great partnership between the United Kingdom and the Philippines and it’s really in crucial areas in science and innovation.”

The British diplomat said the Newton Agham Program benefits the two countries.

“It is an opportunity to pool expertise and to bring the brightest and the best Filipinos in contact with the institutions that we have in the United Kingdom and create these opportunities for people to work together, pool expertise and improve society by harnessing research, innovation, and science.”

DOST secretary Fortuna de la Peña assured continuing support for the program.

“Philippine researchers from various universities and research institutes in the country have produced world-class technologies, and we want these technologies to benefit our fellow Filipinos,” De la Pena said.

He said the program will continue to be fully supported by the DOST “as we build capacity in science and technology for the Philippine socio-economic development growth.”

This year, the four award categories are:

● Royal Academy of Engineering-DOST Leaders in Innovation Fellowship, 15 awardees (10 researchers and five technology transfer officers for an intensive two-week training course on innovation to build their capacity for entrepreneurship and commercialization;

● Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC-DA) Swine and Poultry Initiative, four awardees for a three-year research grants aimed to promote sustainable, safe, healthy and resilient swine and poultry systems;

● British Council-CHED Institutional Links, two awardees who will undergo a two-year grant for seed funding to develop research and innovation collaborations and support the exchange of expertise between academic groups, departments and institutions; and,

● BritishCouncil-CHED PhD scholars, with four scholars on a three-year PhD program in the United Kingdom to help them develop their skills and knowledge in their area of expertise.

Aside from Baniqued, the 2018 Newton Agham recipients, are (researchers) Rita Grace Alvero, Ma. Cristina Bargo, Crisron Rudolf Lucas, Michelle Macalintal, Evangeline Flor Manalang, Marie Antonette Meñez, Ruel Mojica, Melvin Pasaporte, Leo Allen Tayo, Francis Aldrine Uy, Jeffrey Montecillos, Hermogenes Paguia, Idona Marie Porlaje, Patrica San Jose, and Ronilo Violante;

Dennis Umali, Ma. Cynthia Rundina de la Cruz, Gerry Amor Camer, Ronnie Domingo; Clarissa Yvonne Domingo and Virginia Venturina; Windell Rivera, Alyzza Marie Calayag and January Nones; Loinda Balias and DJ Darwin Bandoy; Stephen Doliente, Zyra Evangelists, and Joan Pauline Talubo; Dr. Doracie Zoleta-Nantes and Dr. Leah de la Rosa.

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