Healing flaws in fracture repair | Action Medical Research

Healing flaws in fracture repair

8 May 2001
Ultrasound found to be positive technique Southwest scientists have developed innovative ways of assessing fracture repair, says leading medical research charity Action Research. Researchers in Bristol and Bath have discovered that sound waves are a reliable technique for monitoring when a difficult fracture has healed, and might offer an exciting tool for the monitoring of treatment. Fractures of the shin bone (tibia) are notoriously slow to repair, with as many as one in five having not healed after five months - estimated to cost society about £190 per patient per week. Leading the project, Dr James Cunningham, of the Department of Mechanical Engineering at the University of Bath, says: ‘The results were positive in that they suggest that ultrasound could potentially be used to monitor fracture healing.’ He adds: ‘Current methods used to determine when a fracture has healed are quite limiting in that they rely on clinical judgement rather than accurate measurements. They are based upon manipulation of the limb to estimate stiffness of the fracture, and X-rays to assess the amount of new bone growth.’ ‘In many cases this is quite sufficient for a reliable assessment. However, if we can identify healing more precisely it could lead to shorter treatment times and earlier intervention if necessary.’ Action Research - whose medical breakthroughs have included developing pioneering hip replacement surgery and the use of ultrasound scanning in pregnancies - awarded more than £9,000 to the study, led by both Bristol University and the Department of Mechanical Engineering and Physics at Bath University. During the three-year project the team developed a specialised system designed to send and receive ultrasound pulses to and from the tibia. The researchers examined the way in which these sound waves propagated in the bone and how this transmission was affected by a fracture, and the team was able to accurately determine when the bone had healed. Dr Cunningham adds that information gained from sound waves could also help to predict at an early stage when a fracture is not recovering well, therefore enabling prompt treatment to be given to speed up or restart healing. The team is now hoping to further their work to a clinical setting and enlist the support of patients. Dr Cunningham is currently involved in another Action Research project, worth more than £26,000, which is designed to lead to more accurate fracture assessments. The one-year-study, which began earlier this year, is being spearheaded by both the University of Bristol and the city’s Southmead General Hospital. The researchers are trying to quantify the changes which occur in a patient’s X-rays as the fracture heals. The rate at which new bone is forming during the recovery process is known as the ‘callus index’, and the team is investigating whether this can provide a useful indication of how well the fracture is healing. Action Research, which is fast approaching its 50th anniversary, is dedicated to helping children and families across the UK overcome disease and disability. The charity’s Touching Lives Campaign aims to raise £2m for vital medical research and more details can be found at www.action.org.uk For further media information, please contact Nicole Duckworth in the Action Research press office on 01403 327403 Fax: 01403 210541, or email nduckworth@action.org.uk
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