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Dr Peter Walker, Professor Zhongmin Jin, Dr Joanne Tipper and Dr Ruth Wilcox.
University of Leeds.

Engineers are using advanced methods and novel approaches to design and build replacement body parts at the Institute of Medical and Biological Engineering (iMBE) at the University of Leeds, the world's largest joint simulation facility. New approaches to joint replacement, refining treatments for osteoporosis (a disease that weakens the bones) and developing artificial heart muscle are the focus of the iMBE's exhibit.

'As the ageing population becomes more active and lives longer, an increasing number of replacement joints are being implanted into younger patients', explains Joanne Tipper, an Advanced Fellow at the iMBE. 'Implant longevity has therefore become more important'. A key problem with artificial joints is that 'wear particles' are released from their working surfaces. These small particles of material that shear away from the artificial joint lead to a biological response in the patient. Ultimately, the 'wear particles' can lead to bone loss around the joint and to it becoming loose. 'The patient can suffer pain and will eventually need a further operation for a new artificial joint', says Joanne. 'This is obviously costly financially and affects the patient's health and wellbeing'. But not all patients react so badly to the wear particles, and Joanne is trying to identify what genes are involved when patients have poor reactions. 'The idea is that if we can find a joint suitable for a patient's genetic profile, it reduces the chances of joint failure and increases the lifespan of the replacement'.

Osteoporosis leads to a reduction in bone tissue and strength and is the leading cause of bone fracture in the elderly. 'More than 40,000 spinal fractures in the UK each year are the result of osteoporosis', explains Ruth Wilcox, a Research Fellow at the iMBE. A new keyhole surgery technique called vertebroplasty has been developed for the treatment of such fractures.

Vertebroplasty involves the repair of bone by injection of a cement mixture through a needle.