I was fortunate enough to be able to sit down with Dr. Chris McGibbon, Research Chair in Rehabilitation Biomechanics at the Institute of Biomedical Engineering and Professor of Kinesiology to talk about his career; how he got here, and what drives his success. Our conversation began by asking Dr. McGibbon about where he believes his career in research began. He began as a civil engineering student, later switching into mechanical engineering and completing his undergraduate degree in 5 years.
In his third year of Mechanical Engineering, Dr. McGibbon began working with Professor Lou Torfesson on a robotic wrist and shoulder for industrial applications. From that point onward, he was attracted to the field of musculoskeletal biomechanics. However, at the time, there were no faculty members at UNB with a background in biomechanics.
It just blinked a light off in my head and I thought wow, this is fascinating that you can replicate human movement with a machine - Dr. Chris McGibbon
After Dr. McGibbon finished his undergraduate Degree, Dr. Ed Biden, another UNB Alumnus, arrived back at UNB after completing his PhD at Oxford while on a Rhodes Scholarship. Dr. Biden used gait analysis to study the biomechanics of movement disorders in children.
It was the perfect match. He was doing everything I wanted to do. The fact that here, this guy is coming to Fredericton was just a great opportunity for me. - Dr. Chris McGibbon
During his master’s program, Dr. McGibbon studied models of the knee, and when the master's degree turned into a much larger project. 6 years later, without a master's degree, Dr. McGibbon received his PhD.
Massachusetts General Hospital
While presenting work he had done with Dr. Biden at a conference in Oregon, Dr. McGibbon met the late Dr. David Krebs, a world-renowned researcher in Physical Therapy, who was looking for a postdoctoral fellow at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. Dr. McGibbon described this chance meeting as fortuitous because it set him on a path for the rest of his career. Dr. McGibbon began working at the MGH Biomotion Lab, which at the time was one of the busiest and largest motion capture labs in the United States. During this time, the lab was very dual focused, both in the neuroscience and the musculoskeletal side of human movement. Collaboration in Boston was not difficult for Dr. McGibbon.
In addition to his work in the MGH Biomotion Lab, he collaborated as a data analyst with a team of international researchers examining problems such as HIV/AIDS and Tuberculosis in developing nations. When asked about his experience, Dr. McGibbon explained that you should be adventurous, get out of your comfort zone, even if you’re unsure of it, because it will come back to help you in some way.
I had no business doing that stuff. Really, I mean it was way outside of my field, but it worked and I didn’t back away from it because I saw this as a way for me to hone my statistics skills and my database management skills. - Dr. Chris McGibbon
During his time at MGH, Dr. McGibbon developed a broad area of expertise in areas such as orthopaedic biomechanics, balance and posture, and gait disorders in people with neurological disorders. In 2004, it was time for a change and Dr. McGibbon returned to Fredericton.
Returning to Fredericton
Between 2004 and 2010, Dr. McGibbon worked on various projects, while teaching in the Faculty of Kinesiology at UNB. He worked on projects that examined a brand new technology at the time called accelerometry, which has since been rapidly integrated ubiquitously into our daily lives. Most notably Dr. McGibbon was part of a team that developed a system called Biotone, which sought to address one of the major challenges of rehabilitation seen across North America. The purpose of Biotone is to be a toolkit for quantitative measurement of muscle spasticity, contracture and paresis. Each of these measures is important for rehabilitation of brain and spinal cord injury or disease, but are often assessed subjectively in the clinic. Before Biotone, qualitative assessments led to bias; and differences in classification from one therapist to the next. These differences have plagued research with small populations. Where inconsistent data reporting prevents efficient comparison between research groups. Biotone’s quantitative measuring methods could revolutionize the industry by allowing for accurate, and more importantly, precise data collection on these crucial outcomes.
Everyone uses different tools, and everyone has different ways of managing their data. So, the whole idea with the Biotone system, the concept, was to have systems of tools that were always interconnected. It doesn’t matter if you are a researcher in Boston or Fredericton, you’re going to get the same protocol and the same quality of data. - Dr. Chris McGibbon
The greater effect that this system has is the ability to sync data and results across multiple centers by being able to use the cloud, which can aid in clinical trials that are reliant upon good quality data that is standardized and consistent. In short, the Biotone system will enable large scale multi-site clinical trials to be conducted to obtain conclusive evidence of treatment efficacy that previously could not be reliably measured.
Today, Dr. McGibbon holds a very diverse portfolio of ongoing research. He is the Principal Investigator of an international multi-site clinical trial to evaluate the safety and efficacy of the Keeogo™ dermoskeleton, a lower-extremity powered exoskeleton intended to assist ambulatory activities in people with Multiple Sclerosis. Current exoskeletons can only be used in a clinic or hospital; the exoskeletons being studied by Dr. McGibbon’s team can be used in the home and community environment - a huge step for the development and implementation of exoskeletons that can deliver physical rehabilitation programs as part of the individual’s daily activities.
Another area of focus of Dr. McGibbon’s research pertains to the development of technologies to overcome challenges faced by healthcare professionals in maintaining mobility and preventing falls in the growing senior population. Seniors admitted to hospital represent the highest at-risk population for falls, which can often be the catalyst of a downward spiral in health for this population. These collaborative projects range from the development of tools for mobility assessment and falls analytics in acute care and long term care facilities, to the development and implementation of a deprescribing “App” for improving the frequency and accuracy of drug reviews for seniors in long term care facilities.
**This article has been reviewed and accepted by the researcher before publication.