Translational implants: maths & medicine

Wednesday 9th May 2012
Arthritic shoulder and shoulder with replacement units. and

A European translational research project that has just closed, brought together basic scientific knowledge from the areas of mathematics, medicine and computer science with the aim optimising the replacement of individual shoulder joints (patient-specific). In a world where off-the- shelf hIp and knee replacements are commonplace, tailored or patient specific implants sounds alluring.

Headed by Dr. Karl Entacher (left) from Salzburg University of AppliedSciences and (right) Dr. Peter Schuller-Götzburg from the Paracelsus Medical University in Salzburg, the project initially computed human shoulder joint models, then used them as the basis for the analytical simulation of varying load conditions.

The team started by using imaging techniques to create the computer models. And  computer tomography was used to build up images of human shoulder joints on a layer-by-layer basis.

"Modern tomography techniques allow us to create images of an entire shoulder joint layer-by-layer, and the layer thicknesses that we can achieve today make excellent resolution possible," explains Dr. Entacher. "We were able to use this image data to create computer-generated 3D models of each patient´s individual shoulder joint, forming the basis for our subsequent analysis."

This subsequent analysis was based on the finite element (FE) mathematical process . With this method, the objects to be analysed are depicted in small - but finite - elements. Their behaviour can then be computed numerically and simulated, taking into account variables such as material properties and load, as well as the limits of movement. In the process, it is possible to model the most varied conditions that the joint might face.

Dr. Entacher comments: "Our aim was to simulate the implant at different positions and different angles in the body, as well as to simulate the anatomical make-up of different, individual patients."

In fact, the model was so sophisticated that different types of tissue, such as soft tissue or different bone sections, could be selected. It was also possible to create virtual sections to move different parts of the bone or the implant to any given position.

All in all, this enabled the scientists to gather valuable data for the patient-specific optimisation of shoulder and even tooth implants. This could provide future patients with important information on the positioning, the type or the performance of their implant, before they have an operation.

Commenting on the personal significance of the project and the end of the Translational Research Programme (Belowt: Translational Science:don't neglect basic science), Dr. Entacher says: "As a basic researcher, it is very satisfying to see how working with physicians and engineers can turn our findings into specific applications that can help people.

"In fact, I feel it provides a more personal perspective on personal development. In addition to this personal experience, the Translational Research Programme also makes a significant contribution to innovation culture in Austria. A contribution that will be missing in the future."

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