Students support a professor’s research to find ways to reduce injuries.
Lawrence Tech senior Samantha Hutson works with Assistant Professor Eric Meyer on her directed study in the biomechanics of the knee.
Sports-related injuries – typically to the knee and ankle – represent an estimated 10 to 19 percent of all injuries treated in emergency rooms. For some athletes, such injuries can signal the end of a season or, in severe cases, even a career.
For half a century crash test dummies and computer simulations have been used to save lives and prevent injuries in automobile accidents. Using a newly developed three-dimensional computer model of the ankle, researchers at Lawrence Tech are applying the same methods to understand and prevent sports injuries.
“This type of simulation is very appealing for modeling experiments because it is relatively easy to make modifications to the anatomy and geometry to investigate many different questions about how certain motions/forces produce ligament sprains in sports situations,” explained lead researcher Eric Meyer, assistant professor of biomedical engineering.
“By applying these results through working with equipment manufacturers and sports governing bodies, we hope to turn the tide for serious knee and ankle injuries in athletes, so that everyone can increase their enjoyment of sports.”
The researchers are studying anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) tears in the knee and high ankle sprains – two of the most severe sports injuries at those joints. ACLs are one of the most popular topics for research, but the injury mechanism remains beset by many unknowns and therefore prevention strategies have had only limited success so far, Dr. Meyer noted.
“High ankle sprains have had only limited attention, but there are high-profile cases, such as Rob Gronkowski of the New England Patriots in the AFC Championship game in January, that follow our hypothesis for why this injury happened,” he said. “A major factor that could be addressed through engineering is designing the shoes or artificial surface to a certain injury threshold.”
Two senior biomedical engineering students are working on directed-study projects related to this research. Brian Figueiredo began the development of a computational model of the whole human lower extremity last summer, by isolating the bones of the leg and foot from CT images and reconstructing them into a 3D CAD model.
Student Samantha Hutson is adding realistic ligaments to the knee joint so that the researchers can use this model to simulate dynamic experiments that investigate various ligament sprain injury mechanisms in cadaver knees.
“Having a model that will function realistically like the knee joint is important because it gives us all more knowledge on the different movements of the ligaments during an injury. That knowledge allows us to find solutions to prevent injury or lessen the damage in the injury,” said Hutson, who is finishing up dual majors in biomedical and electrical engineering.
Hutson said she would like to work in tissue engineering and help in the search for ways ameliorate knee injuries and reduce the need for knee replacements. Her directed study with Meyer should be a step toward that career goal.
Meyer will be presenting at a sportsinjury conference in Dublin in September about different ways that his research team has used a similar ankle model to simulate many sports situations. The team has built six subject-specific ankle models using this approach and has submitted a paper to the software developer Materalise for its MIMICS Innovation Awards.