A tear of the anterior cruciate ligament in a knee is not just painful; at the moment the injury also increases a patient’s risk of developing osteoarthritis later. The team uses magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) test results; finite element models, gait analysis and biochemical analysis to study ACL injuries; determine which stresses on cartilage may be indicative of osteoarthritis.
To complete this research, they utilize facilities at the UD’s Center for Biomedical and Brain Imaging as well as UD’s Science, Technology and Advanced Research (STAR) Campus. At STAR, the team collaborates with UD’s top-ranked Department of Physical Therapy to collect data from patients; understand the clinical aspects of the injuries they study. “Based on what we identify, may be physical therapists could treat patients differently,” said Buchanan.
The muscle co-contraction
The team studied knee gait variables, muscle co-contraction; knee joint loading in young people with a history of ACL trouble. They found that high muscle co-contraction does not always result in high knee joint loading, thought to with arthritis. This suggests that arthritis is not just by really high forces, but can also caused by too low forces on the joint. The ideal range of forces may in fact a very narrow window.
Laura Sturgill, a biomedical engineering undergraduate in the class of 2019; joined Buchanan’s lab as a research assistant in 2018 because she wanted more experience studying the mechanical aspects of biomedical engineering. “These applications of statics and dynamics are especially interesting,” she said.
Kelsey Neal and Jack Williams, doctoral students in mechanical engineering, use motion capture and MRI to assess the effects of ACL tears. Neal chose to study in Buchanan’s lab because she wanted to work on rehabilitation engineering and was impressed by the unique setup that allows her to work so closely with clinicians. So they can see how we are affecting patients’ lives.
Orthopedic surgery and engineering
Neal was also drawn to UD because of the Perry Initiative; a nonprofit organization co-founded by associate professor Jenni Buckley to inspire young women to leaders in orthopedic surgery and engineering. As a program specialist for the organization, Neal runs programs across the country to introduce high school girls to surgical techniques that were pioneered by engineers. Buchanan is a member at large of the organization’s board of directors.
Buchanan is also the program coordinator for Delaware’s Center for Translational Research ACCEL Program; to support and expand clinical and translational research in the state. In October 2018, officials announced that UD and four other institutions will receive $25 million over five years from the National Institutes of Health; the state of Delaware to continue these research programs for improved patient care and public health. “Engineers play an important role in the expansion of health-related research at UD and beyond,” said Buchana.