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
Stephen Muench with Glaxo SmithKline & UCB Celltech, BBSRC Industrial Partnership Award (Apr 2018), £480,225
Steve Clapcote, BBSRC (Apr 2018), £443,072
Helen Miller, Innovate UK (Apr 2018), £999,960
Elisabetta Groppelli, David Rowlands & Stanley Lemon (University of North Carolina), Medical Research Foundation Fellowship (Apr 2018), £293,494
Nikesh Patel, Medical Research Foundation fellowship (Apr 2018), £290,976
Graham Askew with colleagues in Hull and Liverpool, BBSRC (Apr 2018), £150,498
Andrew Macdonald, Neil Ranson & Richard Foster, Kidney Research UK (Apr 2018), £82,821
Jessica Kwok & Ralf Richter, Leverhulme Trust (Apr 2018), £298,273
Julie Aspden, Royal Society (Apr 2018), £20,000
Liz Duncan, Royal Society (Mar 2018), £14,602
Alex O'Neill & Ryan Seipke, BBSRC (Feb 2018), £45,489
Jim Deuchars, Royal Society (Feb 2018), £16,300
Stefan Kepinski & Netta Cohen, Leverhulme Trust (Feb 2018), £320,387
Lisa Collins, BBSRC (Feb 2018), £49,950
Alison Baker, BBSRC (Feb 2018), £30,000
Lars Jeuken, BBSRC (Feb 2018), £30,000
Nikita Gamper, BBSRC (Feb 2018), £30,000
Scott Bowen, Leducq Foundation Grant (Feb 2018), £28,470
Jessica Kwok and Ronaldo Ichiyama, International Spinal Research Trust (Feb 2018), £94,450
Alex O'Neill, Oxford Drug Design (Jan 2018), £86,098
Dave Lewis and Colleagues in South Africa, HEFCE Global Challenge Research (Jan 2018), £48,000
Sarah Calaghan, Ed White, John Colyer, Isuru Jayasinghe, BHF (Jan 2018), £128,308
Christine Foyer and Alison Baker, HEFCE GCRF Grant (Jan 2018), £71,158
Alison Baker, Yun Yung Gong and Lindsay Stringer and ICRISAT India, HEFCE GCRF Grant (Jan 2018), £27,000
Graham Askew, Simon Walker, BBSRC (Jan 2018), £699,781
Jennifer Tomlinson, Royal Society (Jan 2018), £512,801
Alison Dunn, NERC (Dec 2017), £18,000
Jennifer Tomlinson, Royal Society-Research Fellows Enhancement Award (Dec 2017), £94,681
Helen Miller, AB AGri Grant (Dec 2017), £73,600
Simon Walker, Royal Society Enhancement Award (Dec 2017), £10,000
Carrie Ferguson, Bryan Taylor, Harry Rossiter, The Physiological Society (Dec 2017), £7,392
Ralf Richter, Royal Society (Dec 2017), £6,000
Christine Foyer, British Council Newton Fund (Dec 2017), £49,840
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