Repairing a Shoulder to Lean On
The University of Pittsburgh and ēlizur receive more than $250k from the National Institutes of Health to provide physical therapy to patients recovering from rotator cuff surgery through CuffLink
Rotator cuff tears are the leading cause of shoulder disability in adults and result in $12 billion in medical bills annually.
The University of Pittsburgh and ēlizur, a supplier of orthopedic products and services in the region, are partnering to create CuffLink, a telehealth system for at-home rehabilitation after rotator cuff repair surgery. The team behind CuffLink received a grant of more than $250k from the National Institutes of Health to complete development.
CuffLink is a device that combines ēlizur’s Shoulder Strengthening & Stabilization System (SSS), a machine that assists the patient in kinetic exercise without damaging or overusing the rotator cuff post-operatively, with a motion tracking software system from Pitt called interACTION (iA). CuffLink will be able to track patients’ progress, record pain levels and house a clinician portal, helping to safely move early rehabilitation to the patient’s home and shifting often capped physical therapy visits for later in the recovery timeline. Kevin Bell, an assistant professor of bioengineering at Pitt’s Swanson School of Engineering, is principal investigator for the project and one of the main forces behind iA.
Bell said partnerships like Pitt and ēlizur are able to bridge the gap between technology and the patient accessing it.
“Creating CuffLink not only addresses a critical clinical barrier for the SSS and ēlizur, it enables us to readily get Pitt’s iA into the hands of an established customer base – amplifying the strengths of both technologies.”
Increasing the shoulder’s range of motion is the main focus of physical therapy after rotator cuff repair surgery; however, therapy has to progress slowly, as too much motion negatively impact repair, including complete loss of motion. Adam Popchak, an associate professor at Pitt’s School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences and key person on the project, said this is traditionally the stage where a physical therapist would offer their expertise, but most of the exercises could be done at home with the right technology.
“CuffLink allows the physical therapist to still provide the patient care, but conserve the patient’s visits to a point later in time where in-person physical therapy is more valuable during rehabilitation,” Popchak explained.
iA was developed by Pitt researchers with support from the Pittsburgh Innovation Challenge, Randall Family Big Idea Competition, and Coulter funding. Bell is working alongside Michael P. McClincy, a co-principal investigator on Cufflink and an assistant professor of the Department of Orthopaedic Surgery at the University of Pittsburgh, to bring the project into fruition. It was licensed by ēlizur in 2019.
Jennifer Lambiase, co-principal investigator on CuffLink and product development manager at ēlizur, said the partnership with Pitt helps take their products one step further by adding scientific credibility and bettering their performance for clinicians and patients.
“It’s exciting to innovate the way patients recover,” she said.
Jim Grant, founder and president of ēlizur, has been working alongside Pitt researchers and University of Pittsburgh Medical Center physicians for over thirty years. He said he feels honored to have the relationship with large scale healthcare and education providers.
“Together, our innovation is a new standard of care for post-operative rehabilitation of the patient,” Grant said.
The software for CuffLink will be developed in partnership with the HARI Laboratory with the support of Bambang Parmanto, professor and chair of the department of health information management at the University of Pittsburgh School of Health Rehabilitation Sciences, and Andi Saptono, assistant professor of the department of health information management at the University of Pittsburgh School of Health Rehabilitation Sciences.
CuffLink will be tested at the Human Movement and Balance Laboratory and assessed by orthopedic surgeons and physical therapists. Rotator cuff repair surgery patients involved in the testing trials will then be allowed to take CuffLink home for further observations.