Media release: How assessing broken ships can help assess broken bones

The way we assess healing of fractured bones is being revolutionised by a global, Monash University-led research team working on a United States Navy-funded project. This pioneering, multi-disciplinary international research, in biomechanical engineering and clinical orthopaedics, will provide more accurate insights into the progress of healing bones and offer improved patient rehabilitation.

Professor Wing Kong Chiu from the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering at Monash University is internationally recognised for his work in structural health monitoring to detect material defects in ship and aircraft structures.

“Where previously we were looking for defects in aircraft and naval structures, we have translated this to working with bone fractures. We are in effect now looking for the opposite – a complete union.” Professor Chiu said.

Professor Chiu’s research team includes Dr Matthias Russ, an internationally recognisedorthopaedic, hip and pelvis surgeon based at The Alfred hospital, Melbourne; Professor Mark Fitzgerald, Director of the National Trauma Research Institute and Trauma Services at The Alfred; and Dr Wern Hann Ong from Monash University, who completed his PhD instructural health monitoring of aircraft structures.

The research has specifically focussed on fixated fractures - those which have been fitted with a metallic device to provide support and stability during the healing process.

Funded by the Office of Naval Research (ONR) Global, a funding arm of the United States Navy, the project began examining the load distribution on a fixated fractured pelvis when subjected to a normal gait.

Professor Chiu determined that attaching sensors enabled the degree of healing to be accurately assessed. This understanding can enable earlier rehabilitation.

“This is very innovative research; using structural health monitoring for physiological applications”, commented Dr. Liming Salvino, Associate Director of ONR Global.

Dr Russ explained how this new assessment method offers improved outcomes compared with existing methods.

“The ability to monitor bone healing directly is crucial for accurately predicting outcomes and early function. At the moment, we rely on indirect measures such as CT and x-rays, which provide less reliable information about the progress of bone healing,” Dr Russ said.

Professor Fitzgerald explained how this ground-breaking research will contribute to health improvement in wounded military personnel.

“Regaining functional independence after major, life-threatening injury is now the primar goal in trauma care,” Professor Fitzgerald said.

“Merging biomechanical engineering with orthopaedic clinical trauma care will provide us with the means to achieve this.”

The benefits of structural health monitoring of fixated fractured bones were clear to the Warfighter Performance Department, ONR Code34, who have incorporated the research of Professor Chiu’s team into a new project supported under the ‘Leap Ahead’ Innovations Program for swift development of innovative technologies.

“The goal is to utilise advanced sensors and SHM technologies to improve injury treatment, combat casualty care, and enhance personnel protection and performance for Navy and Marine Corps warfighters,” said Dr Timothy Bentley, Force Health Protection Deputy and Program Officer of ONR Code 34.

Monash University’s Professor Abid Khan, Deputy Vice-Chancellor and Vice-President (Global Engagement) acknowledged the US ONR’s support and recognition of this multi-disciplinary research project:

“We are grateful for the US ONR’s recognition and endorsement of this Monash-led, multidisciplinary research project. This international partnership and collaboration has the potential to deliver a real and positive impact on patient care,” Professor Khan said.

Published in Monash University Magazine.