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10-03-2003

Biomedical Engineer To Discuss Groundbreaking Work In Repairing Damaged Nervous Systems As Part Of Dedication Of Wallace H. Coulter School Of Engineering Oct. 10

[A photo of P. Hunter Peckham for newspaper use is available at http://www.clarkson.edu/news/photos/peckham.jpg.]

Whether the damage is from a spinal cord injury, a stroke, or a disease like Parkinson's, the common perception is that there's little doctors can do to repair a damaged central nervous system. peckham

That perception is being challenged by the cutting-edge research of P. Hunter Peckham and his colleagues at the Veterans Affairs Center of Excellence in Functional Electrical Stimulation in Cleveland, Ohio. The group uses electric currents to restore the connection between the brain and other parts of the body.

"Low levels of electric current can be used very precisely," says Peckham. "We've seen this in devices that restore hand function and bladder control, and control breathing in people with spinal cord injuries."

Peckham, a 1966 Clarkson alumnus and professor of biomedical engineering and orthopaedics at Case Western Reserve University, will discuss the advances his team has made with people with paralysis at the dedication of the Wallace H. Coulter School of Engineering on October 10 at Clarkson University. The discussion is open to the public.

The group may be best known for their work with the disabled actor Christopher Reeve, who is using one of their experimental devices in his diaphragm to help him breathe on his own. They also invented the FreeHand System, which restores movement to people with paralyzed hands.

"There is an explosive interest in biomedical engineering right now," says Peckham, citing the media attention that surrounds each new invention. "The number of students in my classes has tripled in the last five years. I think that comes from its newness, and the ability to do something to change the human condition. That's very attractive."

But there's much work left to be done. Peckham says researchers are still developing inventions that would allow patients to stand and walk, swallow, and see. Ideally, the technology could address the multiple needs of one patient. The group is also working to develop devices that can operate throughout a person's life, possibly 50 years or more.

Peckham says biomedical engineering challenges engineers in different ways — requiring a deep understanding of the human body and the ability to work with people in a variety of fields. This also reflects the mission of Clarkson's Wallace H. Coulter School of Engineering — "Technology Serving Humanity.”

"This draws on the resources of electrical and mechanical engineers, as well as neurologists and surgeons," says Peckham. "We're seeing a lot of creative young men and women who are attracted to this field. It's changing the face of engineering."

P. Hunter Peckham will speak at 2:30 pm on Friday, October 10, in Room 177 of the CAMP Building on the Clarkson campus as part of Celebration Weekend.

The weekend also marks the inauguration of Clarkson's new president, Anthony G. Collins, as well as the dedication of the Wallace H. Coulter School of Engineering.

[News directors and editors: For more information, contact Michael P. Griffin, director of News & Digital Content Services, at 315-268-6716 or mgriffin@clarkson.edu.]

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