Ferber, Dr. Reed

2018 Finalist: Outstanding Achievement In Applied Technology sponsored By SAIT

Personalized patient treatment for individual runners

Dr. Reed Ferber and his research team at the Running Injury Clinic have transformed clinical practice by developing two unique 3D scientific gait analysis tools: 3D GAIT and KinetiGait. Currently used by over 100 clinics and research labs around the world, Dr. Ferber’s tools have created a community of clinicians and scientists who work together to improve patients’ quality of life while reducing the societal economic cost of musculoskeletal injury.

What problem did you see a need to solve and how did you solve this real-world problem?

We know that gait analysis—analyzing the way somebody walks and runs—is part of every clinical practice. Even if the patient has a shoulder injury, the therapist will commonly watch them walk or run on a treadmill to understand what is typical and atypical about their mechanical pattern. This is a very subjective procedure and it’s largely based on experience.  

What we sought to do was to develop an objective system based in our biomechanical laboratory at the University of Calgary. We put little markers on people and with very high-levels of precision, we can determine how much motion their joints are going through and how quickly they move the loading in those joints. I wanted to develop something similar for clinical use. After about eight years, we developed 3D GAIT.

What has been the impact?

From a patient perspective, we’ve given them a more tailored or personalized medicine approach to determine what they need to do for rehabilitation. Oftentimes, if two people go to the same clinic for two different types of knee injuries, they end up doing the same rehabilitation. Using the 3D GAIT system, we can now prescribe treatment ‘A’ for person A and treatment ‘B’ for person B.

The other big transformation from a scientific perspective is that from the outset, I wanted the data to flow back to us at the University. That was transformative, not only for clinical practice, but also for biomechanics research. We started off with several hundred people as our normative database. When a patient comes in, they were compared to that database. 

We’re comparing people to their specific age category, their foot strike pattern, male versus female and competitive versus recreational athletes. Because we have this database, we are comparing green apples to green apples as opposed to apples to oranges.

Has being in Alberta helped you find success?

Anytime you have a new technology, you are looking for early adopters. From the clinical perspective, Alberta has a tremendous number of early adopters who really have the foresight to understand that technology is going to drive clinical practice. We have a five 3D GAIT systems operating in Alberta. Because they started so early with us, they have been instrumental in helping us develop the software to make it very clinic-friendly.

Who have been your major supporters?

Scott Montgomery at IRAP has been instrumental. Scott is like Father Christmas: you have an idea, you sit down for coffee with him and all of a sudden, a few months later, that idea is really moving along because of financial support and because he’s made connections with people in the community. Tony Wigglesworth at Innovate Calgary and the TEC Edmonton group have really been fantastic.

What are the plans for the future?

The strategy all along has been focused on 3D GAIT and the KinetiGait technologies. KinetiGait is a less expensive version that uses a single laser-scanning camera as opposed to the multiple cameras that 3D Gait uses. The clinicians are using this as a marketing tool to pull people in.

Now, we’re shifting our attention to what we call the ‘check engine’ light project using wearable technology. We’re developing methods for wearable technology and small accelerometers that runners will wear in the real world that analyzes the way they’re running to determine if they need to go get a 3D GAIT analysis because they are on the verge of an injury.  

In the same way your ‘check engine’ light comes on while you’re driving and you don’t really know what’s wrong with your car so you have to go see a mechanic who has diagnostic tools, we’ve developed the diagnostic tools with 3D GAIT and KinetiGait and the mechanics are the physios who are using it. I’m trying to figure out how to turn the ‘check engine’ light on for each individual runner to prompt him or her to go get a diagnostic evaluation of how they run in order to prevent injury.

It’s a complete upstream approach to injury prevention. I don’t need to tell a runner that they’re injured; they probably know they’re injured. I’m trying to help them figure it out before the straw that breaks the camel’s back.

How does it feel to be an ASTech Finalist?

I’m in an outstanding cohort of fellow nominees and I’m really humbled to be with the likes of these individuals, some whom are my scientific heroes at the University of Calgary and across the province. I’m really thrilled and honoured to be a Finalist.