Cementing better ops

Research about to start in Leeds could have a major impact in two common types of joint replacement operation performed on more than 80,000 people every year. It could also help prevent serious complications in a new type of surgery to mend spinal fractures.

A team at the University of Leeds’ department of mechanical engineering has been awarded almost £150,000 over three years by the Arthritis Research Campaign (arc) to develop and refine the cement used in hip and knee replacement surgery.

Although in younger patients, uncemented joint replacements are becoming more common because they are easier to replace, cemented artificial joints are still extremely common and successful in older patients with severe osteoarthritis.

The same type of cement is also used in a new, experimental type of surgery to mend spinal fractures in patients with severe osteoporosis. This type of operation, known as a vertebroplasty, is simple and quick to perform with liquid cement being injected into the crumbling spine before setting hard and filling gaps in the bone. But if the cement leaks, it can press on the spinal cord or can even cause a clot in the blood stream.

“This project is a fundamental study into how cement flows into bone structures before it sets hard,” explained senior lecturer Dr Richard Hall, who is performing the study with colleagues Drs Nikil Kapur and Ruth Wilcox. “This is complicated because bones have internal cracks and is saturated with bone marrow.

“To study the problem we will use a combination of innovative experimental and advanced computational methods. We aim to develop the best types of cement that can be used in joint replacement and vertebral fractures, and to identify the ways of preventing cement leakage which can cause embolisms in the body.”

More than 80,000 hip and knee replacements are routinely performed in the UK every year, most commonly in people with osteoarthritis.

As well as being a recognised centre of excellence for the treatment of arthritis, Leeds is also a leading arthritis research centre, and currently receives more than £3 million from arc.