UTPA Report: Biomechanics

Tuesday, October 15, 2013 - 8:38am

It has given new meaning to hands-on. Students at the University of Texas Pan American are using a state-of-the-art lab similar to the equipment used in the newest video games and even by the U-S Olympic track team. And as Roxanne Lerma tells us, the engineering equipment could someday lead to a breakthrough for elderly patients and athletes with knee problems.

It looks like a scene straight out of Hollywood. Thania Martinez, UTPA Engineering Student, “It’s like playing with really expensive toys.”

But this isn’t a movie production. Matthew Harlan, a senior mechanical engineering student, says they’re using the equipment to find revolutionary new ways to make knee replacement surgeries less invasive. The set up gives them a dynamic simulation of knee joint movements, “Not everybody gets a chance to interact with such incredible technology this early in their career and it’s a fantastic opportunity for me.”

Dr. Dumitru Caruntu, the director of the biomechanics laboratory, acquired the hi-tech gear through a 281-thousand dollar grant awarded to him by the National Science Foundation. The motion analysis system consists of ten cameras and plates that allow students to measure the internal force exerted on the knee. A series of markers are placed over the body. The cameras then record the motion and project an inside look at the knee.

Dr. Dumitru Caruntu, “They measure the muscular activity so that you know exactly which one of the muscles works and which one do not. The purpose of this research is to improve total knee replacements and to improve rehabilitation exercises.”

Current technology on total knee replacements has limitations – the owner of an artificial knee has reduced mobility. Harlan says if engineers are going to develop a better type of knee implant you really need to know what’s happening inside the body.

Matthew Harlan, UTPA Engineering Student, “That’s kind of difficult to do just by looking at somebody and it’s really hard to do because people don’t want you to cut them open. But if you put the markers on you can potentially have someone just walk across the room and you would be able to identify not only what is wrong with them but actually better ways to fix them without having to go into a surgery immediately.”

The scientific equipment can also help Dr. Caruntu and his students study obesity and how it affects the joints.

Eduardo Granados, UTPA Graduate Student, “Just here in the lab put the camera system on them and analyze their biomechanics and just by observing it you can see if oh maybe their PCL or ACL is deficient and save them from going through x-rays and things like that.”

Someday, the students hope to use the technology as a preventative measure, a type of warning system for patients at risk of a stroke or heart attack. Reporting for UTPA and Newscenter 23, I’m Roxanne Lerma.

UTPA has the only biomechanics lab south of San Antonio. Dr. Caruntu is working towards opening a full biomechanics research center in a couple of years.


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