Winter 2018

The grip game

In a stealth test of muscle strength, kids squeeze a controller to move a spaceship through asteroid fields.
Courtesy of DeWayne Townsend

Today’s standard test for assessing muscle function in children with Duchenne muscular dystrophy (DMD), a degenerative neuromuscular disease, is the “6-minute walk test”—which measures, as one might presume, how far they can walk in 6 minutes.

“In a disease where over half of your patients end up in wheelchairs by age 12, it presents some obvious problems,” says the U’s DeWayne Townsend, an associate professor in the Medical School’s Department of Integrative Biology and Physiology.

That’s why Townsend partnered with the College of Science and Engineering’s Will Durfee and a group of mechanical engineering students to design a video game that requires kids to generate force using a cleverly disguised hand grip.

“From this data we are able to measure their strength, their fatigue development, and their fine motor skills,” Townsend says.

A clinical study is next to determine whether the video game, created with funding from the Greg Marzolf Jr. Foundation, provides an accurate measurement of muscle strength in kids with DMD. If it does, Townsend envisions that a test like this could one day replace the walk test as a longer-lasting—and more fun—way to measure muscle function.

Watch as young patients try out the game: