The University of Leeds is heading a £1.1 million project that will lead to groundbreaking new treatments for chronic back disorders, by developing advanced computer models of the spine.
'It might seem far-fetched, but with the aid of computer modelling, we hope that minimallyinvasive surgery for back pain will become a reality by 2020,' said Dr Ruth Wilcox (School of Mechanical Engineering), who is leading the research. This could mean injecting nucleus gels to restore the shape of spinal discs, for example, or repairing fractures with bioactive bone cements.
While it is now commonplace for hospitals to perform hip and knee joint surgery with a high rate of success, spinal surgery for conditions such as degenerative disc disease is still in its infancy.
'Until recently the best doctors could do was to remove a damaged disc and fuse the adjacent bones together, which is far from ideal,' explained Dr Wilcox. 'In the future, the aim is to preserve as much of the original tissue as possible, while also encouraging the body to grow new tissue and restore the spine?s natural function. More advanced computer models will help us to design these new treatments far more rapidly.'
However, she points out that such novel medical techniques could do patients more harm than good without exhaustive preclinical testing.
'There are many different causes of back pain, and every person's spinal structure is unique, so we can't afford to make any assumptions,' said Dr Wilcox. 'To complicate matters further, bone is a living tissue that alters its structure over time in response to natural ageing, injury, obesity, lifestyle and disease.'
The human spine is composed of 24 vertebrae supported by muscles and ligaments, which allow you to bend and twist. Between each vertebra is a gel-filled disc that prevents the bones rubbing against each other.
To help generate a wide range of computer models, CT scans will be taken of spinal remains donated to the University, and those held in the collections of several major museums in Europe.
Also involved in the EPSRC-funded research are Dr Jean Aaron (Institute of Membrane and Systems Biology), who is a world expert in bone histology, and Dr Amalia Aggeli (School of Chemistry), who specialises in self-assembling biomaterials.
External partners include Dr Kate Robson Brown from the University of Bristol, disc tissue experts at the University of Oxford, medical device company Synthes Inc, and software developers Simpleware Ltd.
Photo: Dr Ruth Wilcox and Dr Jean Aaron are using advanced computer modelling to develop future treatments for spinal disorders
Graham Askew, Simon Walker, BBSRC (Jan 2018), £699,781
Jennifer Tomlinson, Royal Society (Jan 2018), £512,801
Adrian Whitehouse and colleagues in School of Chemistry and University of Liverpool, MRC (Nov 2017), £622,319
Michelle Peckham, Neil Ransom, MRC (Nov 2017), £495,159
Dave Lewis, British Council India (Nov 2017), £22,540
Elton Zeqiraj, Royal Society (Nov 2017), £15,000
Hannah Dugdale, Royal Society (Nov 2017), £15,000
Shaunna Burke, Cancer Research UK Innovation Grant (Nov 2017), £20,000
Alex O'Neill and colleagues in Chemistry, BBSRC (Nov 2017), £431,865
Jessica Kwok, Wings for Life (Nov 2017), £87,365
Tom Bennett, BBSRC (Oct 2017), £523,679
Neil Ranson, Darren Tomlinson, BBSRC (Oct 2017), £494,318
Nikita Gamper, BBSRC (Oct 2017), £490,426
Amanda Bretman and colleagues from UEA, NERC (Oct 2017), £430,886
Juan Fontana, Rosetrees Trust consumables grant (Oct 2017), £22,500
Helen Miller, DSM Nutritional Products AG (Sep 2017), £69,988
Neil Ranson, Juan Fontana, Mark Harris, Michelle Peckham, Ralf Richter, Peter Stockley, Patricija Van Oosten-Hawle and colleagues in Engineering, FMH and MAPS, Wellcome Trust Equipment Call (Sep 2017), £418,000
Jamie Johnston, Physiological Society (Sep 2017), £10,000
Frank Sobott, Adrian Goldman, Mark Harris, Andrew Macdonald, Stephen Muench, Sheena Radford and colleagues in FMH and MAPS, Wellcome Trust Equipment Call (Aug 2017), £415,000
Ralf Richter, David Brockwell, Eric Hewitt, Jessica Kwok, Emanuele Paci and MAPS/FMH, BBSRC (Jun 2017), £600,000
Eric Blair, Adrian Whitehouse, Nicola Stonehouse, Alison Baker, Richard Bayliss, Joan Boyes, Ryan Seipke, Sally Boxall and MAPS/FMH, BBSRC (Jun 2017), £376,000
Stefan Kepinski, Yoselin Benitez-Alfonso, Tom Bennett, Michelle Peckham, BBSRC (Jun 2017), £331,000
Roman Tuma, Lars Jeuken, Paul Millner, Sheena Radford, Peter Stockley and MAPS/FMH, BBSRC (Jun 2017), £222,000
Vas Ponnambalam, Darren Tomlinson, Stephen Wheatcroft, BHF (May 2017), £107,878
Graham Askew in collaboration with Bangor University, BBSRC (Mar 2017), £477,383
Stephen Muench, BBSRC (Mar 2017), £132,945
Nic Stonehouse, MRC (Mar 2017), £906,341
Bill Kunin, Steve Sait, BBSRC (Mar 2017), £602,831
Adrian Goldman, EU (Mar 2017), £546,576
Sheena Radford, Wellcome Trust (Mar 2017), £1,836,482
Jamie Johnston, Royal Society (Mar 2017), £15,000
Tom Bennett, Royal Society (Mar 2017), £15,000
Beatrice Filippi, Royal Society (Mar 2017), £15,000
Ryan Seipke, BBSRC (Feb 2017), £52,116
Mary O'Connell, BBSRC (Feb 2017), £46,986
Hannah Dugdale, NERC (Feb 2017), £504,138
Anastasia Zhuravleva, EPSRC (Jan 2017), £100,792
Richard Bayliss, Cancer Research UK (Jan 2017), £1,600,000
John Barr, EU (Jan 2017), £339,000
Mark Harris, Royal Society (Jan 2017), £250,000
Alison Dunn, NERC (Jan 2017), £105,000
Alex Breeze, Pancreatic Cancer Research Fund (Jan 2017), £180,000
Alison Dunn, NERC (Dec 2016), £18,000
Lisa Collins, BBSRC (Dec 2016), £1,681,835
Brendan Davies, Leverhulme Trust (Dec 2016), £247,555
Alan Benson, Mark Drinkhill, Ed White, British Heart Foundaion (Dec 2016), £217,223
Adrian Goldman, Royal Society (Dec 2016), £82,999
Lisa Roberts, Alex Breeze, Brendan Davies, Timothy Devinney, Oliver Harlen, Joseph Holden, Anthea Hucklesby, Pamela Jones, Philip Mellor, RCUK (Nov 2016), £484,172
Lisa Roberts, Alex Breeze, Brendan Davies, Timothy Devinney, Oliver Harlen, Joseph Holden, Anthea Hucklesby, Pamela Jones, Philip Mellor, Wellcome Trust (Nov 2016), £119,343
Katie Field, Rank Prize Funds (Nov 2016), £20,000