Chris Heinrich: PhD Candidate Using Virtual Reality to Aid Stroke Rehabilitation

Chris Heinrich is a PhD candidate based at the University of Otago. With his supervisors, Professor Holger Regenbrecht and Dr Tobias Langlotz, Chris is examining the use of virtual reality to aid stroke rehabilitation.

“I’m developing an augmented reality system that uses a head-mounted display. This will be used for upper limb stroke rehabilitation,” Chris explains, “this system fools the patient’s brain into believing that their impaired limb is working, as an unaffected limb by virtually mirroring their unimpaired limb over their impaired limb.” This has been shown to help rewire the patient’s brain and can lead to increased movement in their impaired limb.

“We’re curious to see how this type of system affects a patient undergoing stroke rehabilitation using augmented mirror therapy,” Chris says, “Our goal is to create a system that patients can use at their home or in community-based centres to carry out augmented mirror therapy.”

Chris’s motivation for working in health research and particularly in stroke is close to his heart. Two of his grandparents were affected by stroke and underwent stroke rehabilitation. “I would like to make a contribution to this area and improve the patient’s rehabilitation process by bringing new ideas and incorporating new technology,” he says.

He and his colleagues including supervisor Professor Holger Regenbrecht hold hope for the research and the novel technological intervention. “I hope this system will be widely available for stroke patients who meet a certain criteria. And also that this technology will allow them to carry out clinician recommended stroke rehab exercises in a non-clinical setting at their leisure,” he explains.

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