New blood to improve life of artificial joints

March 23rd, 2012
Hip and knee replacements are becoming increasingly common in the ageing world, yet most artificial implants have a limited lifespan due to gradual wear and tear.

Understanding why some joint implants fail and others are successful is the key research focus of Flinders University’s new Professor of Biomedical Engineering, Mark Taylor (pictured), who has just moved to Adelaide from the University of Southampton in the UK.

Appointed to Flinders under the University’s Strategic Professorship scheme, Professor Taylor will use computational modelling to assess the performance of new and existing designs for hip and knee replacements in a bid to reduce the risk of future failures.

“On the whole joint replacements are pretty good, they have about 90-95 per cent survivorship at 10 years but that does mean that approximately 8,000 joints fail each year in Australia and need to be revised,” Professor Taylor said.

“Unfortunately, we do get designs that have a 10 per cent failure rate at five years, so there is a real need to screen out those poor designs before they get to clinical practice,” he said.

Professor Taylor said the key to his research was to understand how the forces were transferred from the artificial implant to the supporting bone.

“The hip and knee joints carry very large loads due to the combination of a patient’s weight and the action of their muscles.

“The expectation is that the artificial joint will outlast the patient, which can be 20-plus years and this is a challenging engineering problem.

“Unlike a car, which is regularly serviced, an artificial hip or knee joint is expected to take millions of steps every year without any form of maintenance.

“So what we’re trying to understand is how the forces are transferred from the artificial joint to the supporting bone in order to try and predict the lifetime of implants in this demanding environment.”

Before moving to Adelaide with his family, Professor Taylor worked for 13 years at the University of Southampton, initially as a lecturer before being promoted to Professor of Bioengineering and head of the Bioengineering Sciences Research Group, which he also founded.

He credited Flinders close relationship with the nearby medical centre, and Adelaide’s strong orthopaedics research community, as reasons for the move.

“From a professional point of view the environment in Adelaide is very appealing because the orthopaedics field spans right from the early stages of basic research to animal facilities and clinical trials,” Professor Taylor said.

“Being so close to both Flinders Medical Centre and the School of Medicine, I’m also looking forward to having more direct contact with the clinical work that goes on here.

“One of the problems with computer work is that it can be a bit removed from reality so hopefully I can be more involved in the clinical studies to see whether some of these computational models do actually work.”

Provided by Flinders University

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