Walk Again Soccer Project

Dr. Lumy Sawak, M.D., Ph.D. is a member of an international consortium called the “Walk Again Project.” This project unites the Cardinal Hill Rehabilitation Hospital and the  University of Kentucky with researchers from other esteemed institutions, including Duke University (USA), Association for Assistance of Disabled Children (Brazil), the International Neuroscience Network Foundation, Technical University of Munich (Germany), BIA (France), Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (Switzerland), the University of California-Davis (USA) and the Edmond & Lily Safra International Neuroscience Institute of Natal (Brazil).  One of the many groundbreaking aims of this project includes training a young adult with chronic spinal cord injury to use a mind-controlled exoskeleton. Wearing this exoskeleton, the young man or woman will stand from a wheelchair, walk a few meters, and kick the the opening ball of the 2014 Soccer World Cup Competition in Brazil.

Headed by Dr. Miguel Nicolelis of Duke University, the Walk Again Project is backed by the Brazilian government and FIFA (the international governing body of soccer). Dr. Sawaki’s expertise in gait rehabilitation for spinal cord injury is crucial to tailor its technology to real-life use. She has been fundamental in selection of patients, regulatory/ethics planning and documentation, and ensuring that the engineering development is compatible with constraints and abilities of people with spinal cord injury. Her participation has been especially crucial to bridge basic science and clinical translation. The project team consists of a diverse group of scientists, clinicians, and engineers from 3 continents and 6 countries. 

The Walk Again project is only the start of a huge collaborative effort. The consortium also has plans for expanding its work to the 2016 Olympics and Paralympics in Brazil.

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