Innovative research

How technology from the movie ‘Avatar’ is helping fuel osteopathic research

Researchers using 3-D motion tracking are unraveling the biomechanics of Parkinson’s disease to prevent falls for those with the disorder.


Researchers at the University of North Texas Health Science Center in Fort Worth are using the technology behind the film Avatar to study patients with Parkinson’s disease, with the research goal of identifying osteopathic interventions that will improve gait disorders caused by the condition.

The work, funded by the American Osteopathic Association’s strategic research initiative, was highlighted by WFAA-TV.

Much like in the filming of Avatar, where actors were outfitted in spandex body suits with motion capture markers, patients in the study will be similarly dressed but with the motion capture markers focused on major joints. That will allow researchers to better analyze the effects of OMT in improving the motion of joints and the spine in patients with Parkinson’s disease.

Principal investigator Kendi Hensel, DO, PhD, an associate professor at the university’s Texas College of Osteopathic Medicine, notes that gait disorders can be particularly isolating for patients, as fear of injury or embarrassment can lead to depression and social withdrawal.

“Improving the ability to stand and walk confidently can break that cycle,” Dr. Hensel explains. “Although PD is degenerative, we believe OMT can improve patients’ balance and gait, helping to prevent falls and decrease morbidity.”

“If our research shows improvement, then any rational treatment approach of PD should include OMT.”

Over the course of two years, the AOA has awarded more than $2 million in research funding to broaden the evidence supporting the value of osteopathic medicine, says AOA Vice President of Research Kenya McRae, JD, PhD.

“The AOA invested in projects like Dr. Hensel’s because they have the potential to advance osteopathic medicine by quantifying the value our distinctive approach brings to patients,” McRae says. “This study is already having an impact on the understanding of this complex condition and we’re looking forward to seeing the next phase of this research.”

The five AOA research focus areas are:

  • Chronic diseases and conditions
  • Musculoskeletal injuries and prevention
  • Osteopathic manipulative treatment and osteopathic manipulative medicine
  • Osteopathic philosophy
  • Pain management

Please visit for more information about the AOA’s research and development efforts.

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