Toronto (Nov. 5, 2008) - Is it possible to control devices through thought alone? One researcher is determined to find the answer. César Márquez is presenting the results of a brain-machine interfacing (BMI) study and its implications for people living with limited mobility at a national spinal cord rehabilitation conference on Friday. BMI technology uses brain signals to control devices like computers and robotic arms. This means people living with physical disabilities would have the ability to control assistive devices through thought.

"The results of the BMI study suggest that it may be possible to use brain signals to control assistive devices for individuals with physical disabilities," states Márquez, a PhD student from the University of Toronto who is completing his degree at Toronto Rehabilitation Institute (Toronto Rehab) and leading the BMI study.

The BMI study is one of six major presentations on cutting-edge research that will be presented at Spinal Cord Rehabilitation: Innovation, Impact and Future Directions, a national conference presented by Toronto Rehab from November 6 to 8 at Toronto Rehab's Lyndhurst Centre and the Hilton Toronto. The event combines the 3rd National Spinal Cord Injury Conference and the 16th Interurban Spinal Cord Injury Conference and is the most comprehensive spinal cord injury rehabilitation conference in Canada. The conference features five keynote addresses, six major presentations and more than 10 workshops.

Another key component of the national event is a consumer outreach program. While it is not unusual for consumers to attend conferences for diseases like breast cancer or heart disease, consumers with spinal cord injuries are less likely to attend conferences due to logistical challenges and the fact that many people need to be accompanied by a caregiver.

Toronto Rehab partnered with the Canadian Paraplegic Association Ontario, Spinal Cord Injury Solutions Network and Ontario Neurotrauma Foundation to sponsor 28 consumers from across Canada to attend the conference. Consumers will provide feedback on the relevance and quality of the research presentations from the point-of-view of a person living with a spinal cord injury and will bring the information they learn back to their home communities to help educate local providers how to improve the lives of people living with spinal cord injuries.

Franci Sterzer, a mother of three from Calgary, is one of the 28 consumers attending the conference.

"My world was turned upside down on November 20, 2006, when a horrific car accident resulted in severe damage to the vertebrae in my upper back," says Sterzer, who has spent the past two years adjusting to life in a wheelchair and rehabilitation. "I am attending the conference to learn what I can do to advance my recovery and provide my input into research efforts that seek to improve the lives of people in my situation."

Consumers like Sterzer will join close to 400 scientists, health-care professionals and students from across North America who are coming together to exchange knowledge and discuss leading-edge scientific and technological developments in the area of spinal cord rehabilitation.

"The conference provides a unique opportunity to capture the attention of spinal cord injury clinicians, researchers, and educators with stakeholders in a single venue," says Dr. Cathy Craven, Conference Planning Committee Co-Chair and a Clinical Scientist and Physiatrist, in Toronto Rehab's Spinal Cord Rehabilitation program. "Toronto Rehab is excited to host the conference because it covers three key areas of focus: patient care, education and research. We value innovations in these key areas and the symbiotic interplay between them is evident in much of what we do at Toronto Rehab."

The conference is being held at Toronto Rehab's Lyndhurst Centre on November 6 and at the Hilton Toronto on November 7 and 8.

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