Spotlight on early-career investigators: a Neuronet interview with Clint Hansen

In this interview, we talk to Dr. Clint Hansen, who is deputy group leader of Neurogeriatrics Kiel at Kiel University. Clint is working on the Innovative Medicines Initiative-funded Mobilise-D project, which stands for “connecting digital mobility assessment to clinical outcomes for regulatory and clinical endorsement”.

Could you tell us about your work on Mobilise-D?

Within Mobilise-D, our group is working towards the technical validation of a sensor algorithm that will enable us to accurately assess the mobility of participants in the Mobilise-D clinical study. This study will enrol people with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), Parkinson’s Disease (PD), multiple sclerosis (MS), proximal femoral fracture (PFF), or congestive heart failure (CHF), aiming to develop a system that can accurately and remotely assess mobility in daily life. In the technical validation study, we are aiming to establish baseline mobility measurements for these different groups, using a sensor that is worn on the lower back. To do this, we will collect mobility data from small groups of people living with COPD, PD, MS, PFF or CHF, who will wear the mobility sensor and also be evaluated in our laboratory using a 3D motion capture system. Our end goal is to develop and validate algorithms that will allow us to understand how mobility changes as these diseases progress, using a digital, wearable device that can capture mobility data whilst people are going about their daily activities. In other words, we want to develop a digital system that allows us to use movement as a biomarker for disease.

How will the studies in Mobilise-D benefit people who are living with these conditions?

I think there is still a lot we do not understand about mobility and movement in COPD, PD, MS, PFF and CHF. By developing and validating these algorithms in each pathology, we will be able to see how people living with these conditions are functioning outside the laboratory or hospital setting, and identify signs of disease progression. In the longer term, an improved understanding of mobility, and a better technical capacity to measure mobility, might also contribute to the diagnosis of disease: for example, partners in Mobilise-D have shown that walking speed and step length decreases in prodromal PD. If we have accurate and non-invasive ways to measure these parameters, we could potentially diagnose and treat diseases such as PD much earlier.

Could you describe your career path to date?

I started with a MSc in Sports Science at the University of Kiel, after which I did a PhD in biomechanics and motor control in Paris. I went on to work in the Mechanical and Aerospace engineering faculty at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore, before going to Qatar to work at ASPETAR, an orthopaedic hospital as head of research for anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injury, looking at how rehabilitation procedures help athletes during recovery from ACL injury and surgery. I came back to Kiel in 2017, when I took up my current position with Prof. Walter Maetzler.

What made you want to become a scientist?

When I was a kid, I really wanted to understand how things work – I didn’t like taking things at face value, without an explanation. So, curiosity was a big driver for me. I was attracted to working on biomechanics as it is all about understanding why people move in a particular way, and why certain ways of moving work better than others – like how we see elite athletes excelling at 100m races or at javelin using different styles of running and throwing.

What do you see as a key challenge in your field, and what are the next steps beyond Mobilise-D?

A huge challenge is what to do with all the data we are generating as part of these studies, and how to ensure that individuals really benefit from using these sensors. A really great next step could be the addition of mobility information to our health records, ideally in an electronic, digital format. That way we could really understand and promote the importance of movement in older people, and during the ageing process. It would also be great to continue this work and look more broadly at other types of movement beyond walking and gait, such as our sleeping and seated positions, and postural transitions between positions and towards movement. Mobilise-D is opening the door towards a fundamental understanding of why movement is important. We are going in the right direction with this research, but there is still a lot more to do.

Find out more about the Mobilise-D research project:

Read more from our series of interviews with early-career researchers & investigators:


Spotlight on early-career investigators: an interview with Benjamin Falcon


Spotlight on early-career researchers: a Neuronet interview with Tania Fowke and Shahzad Ahmad