Through the Eyes of a Researcher


Pediatric orthopaedic surgeon and researcher Afshin Aminian, MD, is driven by one goal: to “give children with movement challenges a life without limits.”

Dr. Aminian sees patients with a wide array of conditions, from rare genetic disorders and neuromuscular diseases to scoliosis and fractures. All have one challenge in common: problems with simple movement in their daily activities. “We know every one of these young patients has a dream—to be up and out on the playing field, running around and having fun with their peers,” says Dr. Aminian.

Dr. Aminian recalls a 6-year-old patient with severe cerebral palsy whose deformities were corrected with surgeries and intensive post-operative rehabilitation. She told him, “I thought I was a ship stuck in a sand dune, and now I have water under my sails.” Yet by high school, she had lost some of the gains she had made, leaving her with severe limitations in movement—and Dr. Aminian became more determined than ever to help these children with movement challenges.

Dr. Aminian’s quest for an innovative answer led him to team up with Chapman University’s Schmid College of Science and Technology and Crean College of Health and Behavioral Sciences to develop a transformational research initiative. They designed a research project that would involve placing wearable sensors on patients with movement challenges to collect data that will eventually, with the aid of artificial intelligence and computer learning, lead to improved outcomes. “We are hoping to design the new generation of smart, wearable customized orthoses that will help maintain their gains in the future,” Dr. Aminian explains.

In July 2017, this innovative concept earned Dr. Aminian and his Chapman University team a $1 million award from the CHOC Foundation’s new Philanthropic Venture Funding Program. Following a competitive proposal and presentation review process at CHOC that attracted 27 submissions, the CHOC’s Orthopaedic Institute team led by Dr. Aminian emerged victorious from eight finalists.

Dr. Aminian and the team subsequently attracted an additional $1 million grant from the OM Foundation, that matched the CHOC Foundation prize. “We look forward to working with the engineers and computer scientists at Chapman, alongside CHOC physical therapists and orthopaedic specialists, to provide this unique care under one roof,” he said.

Another one of Dr. Aminian’s research passions that closely aligns with his clinical work is improving the care of children with scoliosis— creating ways to fix the deformity while allowing the spine to grow.

“We completed a study in a porcine model that allowed the growth of the spine while the deformity was corrected, and presented these findings at the International Congress on Early Onset Scoliosis international meeting in the Netherlands in November 2016,”

Dr. Aminian says. “Advancing this concept will take a huge effort, including working with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to receive approval for human trials,” Dr. Aminian says. “We are very encouraged with these results. Our ultimate goal with all of this research is to get kids with movement challenges off the sidelines and active again.”