Sensorimotor Performance and Rehabilitation Engineering Lab (SPRE lab)
Virginia Chu, PhD, OTR/L Assistant Professor VCU Department of Occupational Therapy
Office location: 900 E Leigh Street, Room 5204
Lab location: 900 E Leigh Street, Room 5011

A small boy looks down while looking down and holding railing while he walks towards someone off screen

The SPRE lab focuses on studying the role of somatosensory processing in motor control and development. We seek to better understand the development process of somatosensory function in children and how impairments and delays in sensory development affect motor development and learning. In particular, we focus on proprioceptive discrimination skills and the role these skills play in motor learning in children. A better understanding of the relationship between difficulties with proprioceptive processing and motor development will allow us to identify children who experience these difficulties before they show significant motor delays and to develop tailored interventions for them.

Current Projects:

Development of Proprioceptive during Early Childhood

The purpose of this project is to examine proprioception development in very young children. Children participating in this study will play with the researchers and through these specially designed play activities, we will evaluate the child’s proprioception. Parents will also fill out some questionnaires about their children’s development. The results of this study will provide us allow us to develop tests to expand testing of proprioception into younger children. We will also be able to track and monitor sensory development in children who were born prematurely.

The role of proprioceptive processing in motor development

The purpose of this project is to develop a timeline of proprioception development in children. As part of this project, we will also develop assessment tools that will more accurately assess proprioceptive function. The developmental timeline will provide us with benchmark to compare deficits observed in children with developmental delays. It is only by effectively quantifying the sensory performance that we can evaluate effectiveness of sensory interventions and tailor interventions to a child’s unique needs.

Characterization of sensory function associated with idiopathic toe walking in children

The purpose of this project is to examine sensory dysfunction as an underlying cause for idiopathic toe-walking. As part of this project, we will develop a set of assessments tools that can be used to differentiate subtypes of sensory dysfunction profiles related to toe-walking. We will assess sensory and motor performance in children with idiopathic toe-walking and compare them to those of typically developing children. This research will provide a standardized framework in which to detect and analyze the underlying sensory deficits in these children.

Facilities and Equipment:

The SPRE lab is located in the CHP Building, Rm 5011. We are setup to measure movement, kinematics, kinetics and electrophysiology markers in children.

Equipment located in the lab includes:

  • Active marker motion capture system
  • Inertial based motion capture system
  • Joint measurements: electrical goniometers, custom single-joint measurement setup
  • Haptic feedback robotic arm
  • Electrophysiological measurements: EMG, EKG, EDA
  • Force sensors: force plates, dynamometers
  • Pressure sensitive walkway 

Selected Publications:

  • Chu, V.W. (2020). Pilot study to measure deficits in proprioception in children with somatodyspraxia. American Journal of Occupational Therapy, 74. [link]
  • Chu V.W.T., Hornby T. G., Schmit B.D. (2018) Stepping responses to treadmill perturbations vary with severity of motor deficits in human SCI. Journal of Neurophysiology, 120(2):497-508. [link]
  • Chu, V.W.  (2017). Assessing proprioception in children: A review. Journal of Motor Behavior. [link] [pdf]
  • Chu, V.W., Park, S.W., Sanger, T.D. & Sternad D. (2016). Children with Dystonia can Learn a Novel Motor Skill: Strategies that are Tolerant to High Variability. IEEE Transactions on Neural Systems and Rehabilitation Engineering, 24(8), 847-858.  [link] [pdf]
  • Chu, V.W., Hornby, T.G. & Schmit, B.D. (2015). Perception of Lower Extremity Loads in Stroke Survivors. Clinical Neurophysiology, 126(2), 372-381. [link] [pdf]
  • Chu, V.W., Sanger TD. (2014) Two different motor learning mechanisms contribute to learning reaching movements in a rotated visual environment. F1000Research, 3:72. [link]
  • Chu, V.W., Hornby, T.G. & Schmit, B.D. (2014). The effect of antispastic agents on motor reflexes and voluntary muscle contraction in incomplete spinal cord injury. Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, 95(4), 622-632. [link] [pdf]
  • Chu, V.W., Sternad, D. & Sanger, T.D. (2013). Healthy and dystonic children compensate for changes in motor variability. Journal of Neurophysiology109, 2169-2178. [link]
  • Chu, W.T., Sanger TD. (2009) Force variability during isometric biceps contraction in children with secondary dystonia due to cerebral palsy. Movement Disorders. 24(9), 1299-1305. [link] [pdf] 

Current support: 

VCU CCTR Endowment Fund 2020-2021

C-STAR Pilot Fund 2021