Engineers explore bone stabilisation

Leeds University engineers are investigating the feasibility of using spinal cement to stabilise the bones of people with multiple myeloma, an incurable bone-marrow cancer that causes destructive lesions in bones.

The study will analyse whether certain techniques – such as injecting cements into the spine to stabilise the bone or using plates to fix fractures – can be adapted for affected patients.

Although incurable, improvements in treatment mean that patients with multiple myeloma are surviving for longer, with up to a third surviving for at least five years. However, a better prognosis means that secondary symptoms, such as painful bone deterioration, have more time to take effect.

‘Our aim is to give people suffering from this disease a better quality of life,’ said Richard Hall, professor of Spinal Biomechanics and leader of the research at Leeds University’s Faculty of Engineering. ‘If the spine becomes weakened or fractured, patients can do little more than stay in bed and try to deal with the pain. The majority of multiple myeloma patients are in their sixties or older, but even simple things that we take for granted, such as sitting your grandchild on your knee, can become impossible for them.’

The work will combine laboratory experiments with computer modelling to predict the impacts of various treatments on patients.

Hall will be collaborating with researchers at the Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre in Toronto, Canada, and clinicians from Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust.

The project team includes Jake Timothy, consultant neurosurgeon in Leeds who has developed a clinical vertebroplasty and kyphoplasty service that can help to repair painful vertebrae and spinal compression fractures associated with osteoporosis.

‘There is still so much unknown about the positive and negative effects of these procedures,’ he said. ‘This money will undoubtedly aid our understanding and help us select which patients will benefit the most from these procedures, improving their quality of life even further.’

The £600,000 project has been funded through the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council and will run for four years. The work is part of the £50m research portfolio led by the Institute of Medical and Biological Engineering (iMBE) aimed at giving people ’50 active years after 50’.