What do young athletes and the elderly have in common?
Both groups include people with knee problems requiring extensive surgery. While few young people need a total knee replacement (TKR) , many older people have worn out their knees and require the implanting of an entirely new knee.
The current TKR technology has limitations – the owner of an artificial knee has reduced mobility, kneeling or squatting being very difficult if not impossible. Artificial knees do not have the same properties as a real knee – and it requires the patient to learn to walk a different way than she has been walking all her life.
Associate Professor Dr. Dumitru Caruntu of the Mechanical Engineering Department and Director of the Biomechanics Laboratory, has some ideas to solve these problems. Young athletes do not need TKR simply because their injuries usually require just the repair of a torn ligament. “There is no need to buy a new car just because one spark plug is bad” says the native of Romania. “But a new knee is often warranted in older people simply because many of the parts, such as the cartilage that provides cushioning between bones has worn out or the patient has osteoarthritis, and we need to replace the weight-bearing surfaces of the knee.”
In the Rio Grande Valley, there are many candidates for total knee replacement, ranging from aging Winter Texans to overweight Valley residents whose knees have been punished by the extra pounds. Nationally, over 318,000 total knee replacements were done in 2003 – and that is expected to jump to an astonishing 3.48 million by 2030.
Enter Dr. Caruntu and his recently awarded $281,323 grant from the National Science Foundation to purchase advanced instrumentation that will allow him, his Co-Principal Investigators and students to study human biomechanics modeling, gait analysis, rehabilitation exercises and other aspects of improving the quality of TKR..
Once the equipment is in place during the spring of 2012, Dr. Caruntu will form a Biomechanics Research Center. It will be a place where students enrolled in courses such as the Mechanical Engineering Department’s Orthopaedic Biomechanics and Introduction to Computational Biomechanics as well as the Health & Kinesiology Department’s Motor Learning and Biomechanics courses can get hands-on practical experience in research. By involving them in challenge-based instruction, graduate and undergraduate students’ learning will be greatly enhanced as they take part in actual research.The research team spans four departments – Mechanical Engineering, Health and Kinesiology, Manufacturing Engineering and Physics.
But, the new center requires a connection to the community at large. In the medical field, the orthopedic surgeon is the professional who will implement the lab’s findings. Dr. Caruntu is actively seeking orthopedic surgeons and hospital orthopedic units to work with. He may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or (956) 665-2079.
Intellectual Energy will follow-up on this story – we want to see how much this new lab will increase student learning – how much it will increase community involvement – how much faculty research it will generate – how much it will move UTPA forward as a research university.
We want you to see how research at UTPA is moving ahead.