Med-Eng lab provides setting for health related research

By Sharon Gray

Dr. Craig Stone and Corey Brown are following different career paths, but they share an interest in a common problem.

As an orthopedic surgery resident working with Dr. Daniel Squire, Dr. Stone wants to test how well different types of silicone replacement joints work as replacements for hand knuckles in arthritic patients. And as an engineering work-term student working with project engineer John Tucker, Mr. Brown is absorbed in figuring out the best way of testing the strength of these artificial joints in a laboratory setting.

That setting is the Med-Eng Laboratory, a research facility set up over a year ago on the first floor of the S. J. Carew Building, which has allowed several engineers and orthopedic surgeons to pool their expertise and provide research opportunities for engineering students and orthopedic residents.

Using cadaver hands provided by the Anatomy Lab in the medical school, Dr. Stone and Mr. Brown are testing two types of replacement knuckles. "Patients with rheumatoid arthritis get severe deformities in the small joints of their hands and one treatment is to replace the knuckle with silicone joints -- they improve function and relieve pain," explained Dr. Stone.

Unfortunately, the pure silicone replacements often fail, resulting in renewed pain and new deformities. A revised type of joint includes titanium washers on the pegs of the replacement joint. These new joints cost about four times as much -- but do they last longer? That's the question Dr. Stone and Mr. Brown hope to answer.

This project is just the latest example of collaboration between orthopedic surgeons and engineers at the Med-Eng Lab. Over the past year there have been eight publications from work completed at the lab, a record that the lab's co-chair, engineer Dr. John Molgaard, is very proud of. The papers include a study, also involving Drs. Stone and Squire, of stainless steel wire twists used in orthopedic surgical techniques; a quantitative study by graduate student Joshua Swamidas of gait analysis; and a study by orthopedic resident Dr. Joseph Tumilty with orthopedic surgeon Dr. David Peddle of strain distribution in bone with five different total hip replacements.

Besides an impressive publication record, the research done at the Med-Eng Lab has gathered some honors for orthopedic resident Dr. Peter Stevenson, who worked with Dr. Robert Deane on a study of spinal reconstruction which evaluated the stability of the spine after insertion of a reconstruction plate in a method known as the Wellesley Wedge. That research has been the basis for several poster and paper presentations at conferences, and earned Dr. Stevenson first prize at Memorial's annual Surgical Residents Day and the Canadian Society for Clinical Investigation/Medical Research Council of Canada Research Award for Memorial. Dr. Molgaard says the success of the Med-Eng Lab during its first year of operation is just the beginning. With two new orthopedic residents beginning study each year, new projects will be developed and the collaboration between medicine and engineering at Memorial will continue, in addition to other work related to health care.