Spinal research gains European backing

Improving treatments for spinal fracture is the focus for a new €3 million research project, led by Prof Richard M Hall of the Institute of Medical and Biological Engineering at Leeds University.

The EU-funded research will look mainly at problems caused by aging, but will also consider better treatments for spinal damage caused by trauma and cancer.

"As we age, our bones get weaker and the front portion of the spine can begin to collapse, causing the stoop sometimes seen in elderly people," explains Professor of Spinal Biomechanics Richard Hall.

"This can be extremely painful and have a major impact on people's quality of life. As more people live longer, improving how we treat such conditions to keep people active and pain free is increasingly important."

The researchers will analyse issues and problems with current treatments and look for areas where they can be improved, such as adapting the cements injected into the vertebrae to stabilise the fracture and reduce pain.

Metal plates are also used in some cases to stabilise fractures, but as bone continues to weaken, plates can loosen causing damage to surrounding tissue. The research will consider new ways of fixing the plates to ensure a longer lasting connection.

Consultant Neurosurgeon Jake Timothy of the Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust, one of the associate partners in the project, says: "As patients are living longer and treatment of osteoporosis and cancer is improving, spinal fixation in this group of patients is becoming increasingly challenging. This project will help us use modern technology to overcome these difficult issues and ultimately improve patient care."

The four-year project includes academic collaborators from the universities of Bern, Hamburg and Vienna and industrial partners BoneSupport, Ulrich Medical and Anybody Technology. The research will include both experimental mechanics and computational modelling to predict how different materials will behave in the body.

Further information from:
Abigail Chard, Campuspr: tel 0113 258 9880, mob: 07960 448532, email: abigail@campuspr.co.uk

Guy Dixon, University of Leeds Press Office: tel 0113 343 8299, email: g.dixon@leeds.ac.uk

Notes for Editors:

1. Professor Hall is a member of the University of Leeds' Institute of Medical and Biological Engineering, the country's largest bioengineering unit and a world-leading research centre for artificial joint replacements. The Institute's research has already benefited tens of thousands of individuals over the past 15 years. http://www.imbe.leeds.ac.uk/

2. The Faculty of Engineering at the University of Leeds is ranked 7th in the UK for the quality of its research (2008 Research Assessment Exercise); an impressive 75% of the Faculty's research activity rated as internationally excellent or world leading.

With 700 academic and research staff and 3,000 students the Faculty is a major player in the field with a track record of experience across the full spectrum of the engineering and computing disciplines.

The Faculty of Engineering is home to five schools:
- civil engineering
- computing
- electronic and electrical engineering
- mechanical engineering
- process, environmental and materials engineering

Two thirds of students are undergraduates with the remaining third split evenly between taught masters and research degrees. The Faculty attracts staff and students from all around the world; one third of students are from outside the UK and representing over 90 different nationalities. http://www.engineering.leeds.ac.uk/

3. The University of Leeds is one of the largest higher education institutions in the UK with more than 30,000 students from 130 countries. With a total annual income of £422m, Leeds is one of the top ten research universities in the UK, and a member of the Russell Group of research-intensive universities. It was recently placed 80th in the Times Higher Educational Supplement's world universities league table and the University's vision is to secure a place among the world's top 50 by 2015. http://www.leeds.ac.uk/

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