Computers and Broken Bones

During the summer, I had the chance to receive a guided tour of a biomechanics lab a hospital in Toronto. I had never been to a biomechanics lab before and didn’t know what to expect. The first thing I saw when I entered the room was a white metal stand with a piece of bone fastened on it.

“This is the experimental setup we use to simulate fractures,” said the researcher giving us the tour. The stand was designed to exert torque or tension onto the bone. After a strain is applied to the bone, the force can be measured. The measured force will steadily increase and then decline sharply when a fracture occurs. She then demonstrated this process. Interestingly, even though the computer data showed that a fracture occurred, the fracture was completely unnoticeable when examined visually. This was surprising to me since I’ve always imagined that bone fractures would be apparent. It was not until the researcher continued to increase the strain that the fracture became clearly visible.  

“We can use this machine to create many different types of fractures and test how bones behave to different types of strains,” she explained.

After that, another researcher introduced us to the novel computer assisted orthopedic surgery technique being developed in the lab. Currently, the most common treatment for femoral shaft fracture is the surgical insertion of specially designed metal rods into the marrow canal of the femur, to keep the bone in place during healing. However, alignment of the rod is crucial to the success of the operation, and surgeons often spend a long time aligning the rod accurately. The lab’s new technique uses medical imaging and computer assisted alignment to speed up the process which can greatly reduce operation time.

At the end of our tour, we had the chance to meet one of the student researchers in the lab who was also a medical resident at the hospital. He completed his undergraduate degree in engineering and was partaking in the lab’s research while finishing his residency. Such interdisciplinary interactions are not uncommon. The lab also collaborates with orthopedic surgeons to bring new technology to patients.   

The visit opened my eyes to how biomechanics research is conducted and how experimental results can be transferred to improve care for patients. It also showed me the rising role of technology in medical operations and highlighted the importance of interdisciplinary research in medicine.

(Written by Eva Liu / Image Source)

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