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Virtual danger: Toronto lab recreates the world - and may revolutionize research

November 17, 2011 | Hogan Keyser
virtual_hospital.jpgTom Blackwell Nov 16, 2011 via - It looks like a typical, comfortably furnished one-bedroom condominium, with a few notable exceptions -- the apartment has no ceiling, it is surrounded by a catwalk that lets scientists peer down at the occupants and the entire thing is situated in a downtown hospital.

"Home lab," as researchers at Toronto Rehabilitation Institute have dubbed their open-top apartment, is part of an impressive $36-million complex whose units stretch the definition of the word laboratory.

Opening officially Wednesday, the iDAPT facilities use elaborate simulations of everything from an icy Canadian winter to an urban streetscape to devise new ways of preventing or coping with injury and illness.

In the home lab, for instance, engineers are testing a computerized monitor that can detect when a resident has fallen, "talk" to them about what help they need, then call the required emergency services.

Inside another lab, test subjects walk or wheel through a stunningly realistic virtual-reality duplication of the hospital's neighbourhood, a life-size mock-up that is being used in part to test an intriguing, directional hearing aid.

motion_simulators.jpgThere is nothing like it in the world. The institute hopes iDAPT will draw researchers and corporate partners to a field of health science that has long been neglected, said Dr. Geoff Fernie, Toronto Rehab's research head.

"It's a huge problem for people -- more than half of us will be disabled at some point before we die," he said.

"[But] it just hasn't been getting the attention it deserves from research. If you're a bright kid, you get into stem cells or you get into bio-markers. We've been ... toiling for some time in basement labs and it's been a bit of a backwater."

stair_monitoring.jpgContinue Reading...

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