Self-powered implants for injured knees
As news of Tiger Woods' knee injury hits the headlines, a researcher at the University of Southampton has developed a new self-powered sensor to monitor progress during knee operations.
As part of his final year project in his Masters degree in Electromechanical Engineering, which he studied at the University's School of Electronics and Computer Science (ECS), Fauzan Baharudin explored the potential for the use of thick film technology in the development of medical sensors which could be embedded in the knee during surgery.
This new sensor, called Serial In-vivo Transducer (SIT), which uses thick film technology, could measure tendon force during Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL) reconstruction.
The ACL is the most commonly injured ligament and is frequently damaged by athletes; in fact it is reported that this is the ligament associated with Tiger Woods' injury.
Fauzan's project was supervised by Professor Neil White in ECS, who in 1991 developed thick film piezoelectric material. This made it possible to produce a sensor that could power itself if it were installed in a device that vibrates and would be ideal for appliances where physical connections to the outside world were difficult.
Professor White said: "Although this work is still in its infancy, our earlier research in thick-film sensors has shown that it is feasible to apply the technology to medical applications such as prosthetic hands. We have also shown that it is possible to harvest energy from the human body using piezoelectric materials and the knee is subjected to very high levels of force during everyday activities. It therefore seems logical to combine the two approaches to deliver a new type of embedded, self-powered sensor.
In Fauzan's project, entitled Assessing the use of thick-film technology in knee surgery: along with energy harvesting in-vivo, he has also incorporated some of this energy harvesting capability into SIT which means that it will be self-powered.
"I chose knee surgery because there has been very little research carried out in this field and I felt a self-powered device could work well in the knee," he said.
Before developing SIT, Fauzan reviewed the existing devices in this field and concluded that due to its flexibility in fabrication, low capital cost, fast lead time and its suitability for use in the body, thick film technology is the best solution for ACL surgery. Assessment of the energy harvesting feature revealed that the device could produce more than enough energy to power itself.
"It remains a mystery to me, given how common knee injuries are among athletes, that devices like ours have not been developed before now," said Fauzan. "A sensible assumption for this is that thick film technology does not reach medical researchers as quickly as it does within the microelectronics community, hence the delay in realising the huge potential in developing in vivo transducers."
Notes for editors
With around 500 researchers, and 900 undergraduate students, the School of Electronics and Computer Science at Southampton is one of the world's largest and most successful integrated research groupings, covering Computer Science, Software Engineering, Electronics, and Electrical Engineering. ECS has unrivalled depth and breadth of expertise in world-leading research, new developments and their applications.
The University of Southampton is a leading UK teaching and research institution with a global reputation for leading-edge research and scholarship.
This is one of the country's top institutions for engineering, computer science and medicine, and home to a range of world-leading research centres, including the National Oceanography Centre, Southampton, the Institute of Sound and Vibration Research, the Optoelectronics Research Centre, the Centre for the Developmental Origins of Health and Disease, and the Mountbatten Centre for International Studies.
We combine academic excellence with an innovative and entrepreneurial approach to research, supporting a culture that engages and challenges students and staff in their pursuit of learning.
As one of the UK's top 10 research universities, we offer first-rate opportunities and facilities for study and research across a wide range of subjects in humanities, health, science and engineering. We have over 22,000 students, around 5000 staff, and an annual turnover in the region of £325 million.
For further information contact:
Professor Neil White, School of Electronics and Computer Science,
Tel: 023 8059 3765, email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Joyce Lewis, Communications Manager, School of Electronics and Computer Science, University of Southampton
Tel. 023 8059 5453; email email@example.com