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Arthritis Foundation Funds Memphis Implant Study

By Tom Wilemon

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ANALYSIS UNDER WAY: Dr. William Mihalko, a hip and knee surgeon, is leading an analysis of successful implants at the InMotion Orthopedic Research Center. — PHOTO SUBMITTED BY CHRISTINE SNEARLY/INMOTION ORTHOPAEDIC RESEARCH CENTER

Researchers in Memphis will take a different direction in the quest to improve knee and hip implants by focusing on surgical successes instead of device failures.

The analysis by the InMotion Orthopaedic Research Center is the latest research initiative funded by The Arthritis Foundation in Memphis. Dr. William Mihalko, an orthopedic surgeon and biomedical engineer at InMotion, will lead the effort, which is believed to be the first of its kind.

Memphis is uniquely positioned for the initiative because of the presence of InMotion and the Medical Education & Research Institute (MERI).

“We have a source of well-functioning total knees at the MERI here,” Mihalko said. “About 20 percent of those people who donate their bodies have a well-functioning total hip or total knee implant in place. It’s kind of one of those things where not a lot of people have access to these kinds of specimens.”

Financing results

Researchers at Dartmouth College, the University of Alabama at Birmingham and other institutions are also analyzing implants, Mihalko said, but that work is typically limited to failed devices that have been surgically removed.

“They mostly get the implants themselves,” Mihalko said. “They seldom get the entire specimen that includes the soft tissues and the bone surrounding the implant. Certainly, we have an opportunity here to take it to the next level and really have kind of an opportunity to look at all the factors that may be associated with a good outcome for a total hip or a total knee.”

A benefactor to The Arthritis Foundation provided $10,000 to initiate the work.

Karen R. Watson, the new branch director of the West Tennessee office of The Arthritis Foundation, recognized the potential benefits of the study and brought it to the attention of the state office. Watson formerly worked as an executive and consultant in the Memphis orthopedic industry.

“Memphis has a unique array of assets that is like no other place, frankly, in the world,” she said. “We have world-class medical clinics. We have top research universities. We have three major orthopedic and spinal companies and an array of smaller and supporting medical device companies that are in the orthopedic and spinal realm. And we have wonderful philanthropies that are active in the city. That sort of gumbo of assets doesn’t exist any where else.”

Mihalko said he hopes other grant money will follow so the study of successful implants can continue for a decade or more.

“We have pilot studies that we’ve already started,” he said. “We’re using that data to put in grant applications and, hopefully, obtain the next level of funding so that we can go further in depth.”

The public has a misconception that hip and knee replacements are routine-type procedures when there is still much to be learned, he said.

“One of the perceptions in the public is that it’s about the implant,” Mihalko said. “It’s also about how the surgery is done. We’re going to be able to look at a lot of the surgical parameters of each of these total knees and, hopefully, total hips, and see if we can come up with certain surgical variables that we can determine are making a significant impact on the longevity of these implants.”

The work will include mechanical testing, soft tissue analysis and computer modeling.

“Basically, what we are trying to come up with is a computer model that models how these implants have worn and, therefore, hopefully work backwards so that we can use that same model to help us predict how we should put these implants in during surgery.”

A job never done

The national office of The Arthritis Foundation is currently funding three other research initiatives in Memphis, including that of Edward F. Rosloniec, said Watson.

Rosloniec, a University of Tennessee Health Science Center professor and researcher for the Memphis VA Medical Center, received the 2009 Clifford M. Clarke Science Award from The Arthritis Foundation for his research on a potential gene therapy for autoimmune arthritis. The foundation had already awarded Rosloniec a $95,000 Innovative Research Grant.

The Arthritis Foundation bills itself as the largest private, not-for-profit contributor to arthritis research in the world. Since 1948, it has provided more than $400 million in research grants, according to information from the agency.

Watson, who just this year became the director of the foundation’s West Tennessee office, began her career in 1982 as a product development engineer at Smith & Nephew and worked her way up to become vice president of marketing before leaving the company in 1998. She then worked as a consultant, which allowed her to devote more time to her four children.

“My mother suffers from arthritis,” Watson said. “I’ve seen firsthand kind of what the suffering is like. Yet, I’ve also seen the value of a number of different kinds of interventions – all the way from water aerobics and exercise to actual therapeutic intervention via pharmaceuticals and, of course, total joint replacements.”

She said a primary goal is to raise awareness about The Arthritis Foundation in West Tennessee.

“We need for people to understand that arthritis is an umbrella term that refers to over 100 diseases,” Watson said. “Arthritis is the leading cause of disability in the U.S. More than 46 million people are affected. More than $300,000 of them are children.

“It’s not a disease affecting just the elderly. But, by the same respect, we need for individuals to understand that there are things that can be done. There’s real exciting research. There are new treatments being developed every day that can help patients that suffer from these diseases. And there is a need for us to continue that research.”

 

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