Queen's University Belfast PhD student Rochelle O'Hara is developing injectable cements for highly traumatic spinal injuries called burst fractures.
Bone cements, similar to those used in joint replacement surgery, are already being used to strengthen damaged vertebrae of patients with diseases such as osteoporosis, in a procedure known as vertebroplasty.
But burst fractures to the spine and injuries sustained in major accidents and falls are much more difficult to treat. They account for over 1,000 emergency NHS admissions each year and often require highly complex, invasive surgery and a long stay in hospital.
O'Hara said: 'To use bone cements for burst fractures would be a simpler, quicker and much less invasive surgical approach for the patient, reducing both recovery times and NHS costs.
'My research is focused on developing a novel injectable cement for the treatment of burst fractures. This technique is minimally invasive, whereas traditional options include fusing the spinal fragments together using metal screws or rods.'
O'Hara is presently undertaking a three-year postgraduate research position within the university's School of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering.
She is exploring how the properties of calcium phosphate bone cement (CPC) can be improved to make it less brittle and more suitable for supporting a load. Present CPC systems have low mechanical properties and are highly brittle and not suited for load bearing.
O'Hara is investigating how the introduction of materials such as natural collagen fibres, may provide a way of improving the mechanical integrity of the cement.