New insights to spinal injury

US biomechanics expert Prof Dawn Elliott (University of Delaware) with A/Prof John Costi and student, Ms Dhara Amin (MDRI)
US biomechanics expert Prof Dawn Elliott (University of Delaware) with A/Prof John Costi and student, Ms Dhara Amin (MDRI)

A Flinders research partnership with American experts is adding momentum to the global push for better treatments for debilitating spinal conditions.

Ageing, growth and injury are common causes for loss of spinal function, putting a heavy burden on health services and human suffering that costs tens of billions of dollars each year, says international biomechanics expert Professor Dawn Elliott.

Professor Elliott, from the University of Delaware, will outline her research at a public seminar at Flinders at Tonsley on Friday 7 August, and is keynote speaker at an Adelaide Centre for Spine Research event next week.

Professor Elliott has spent the past month at the Medical Device Research Institute (MDRI) at Tonsley under a Flinders Visiting International Research Fellowship.

She is working with Associate Professor John Costi and his research team at the MDRI’s Biomechanics and Implants Laboratory to develop long-term strategic research priorities to address this global problem.

As leading researchers in the field of disc mechanics, Associate Professor Costi and Professor Elliott are combining their knowledge and techniques both at Flinders and at the University of Delaware’s Biomedical Engineering Department.

“Our hexapod robot at Flinders will support Professor Elliott’s modelling of disc tissue health, both at joint level down to tissue-scale and micro-scale levels,” says Associate Professor Costi.

“This research into disc damage incorporates the robot’s accurate modelling capabilities with other mechanical testing, mathematical and multi-modal imaging to come up with the next-generation of knowledge about managing spinal health.”

The hexapod robot can subject discs to realistic loading scenarios, as well as at the tissue level scale using a micro-testing system.

Professor Elliott, who has been collaborating with Flinders for two years, is applying these advanced, high-tech capabilities to her research which applies magnetic resonance imaging and mechanical loading and mathematical modelling to study the spine and how it breaks down with ageing.

“I am certain that the strong research collaborations my laboratory is building with Flinders will develop into new breakthroughs in developing and testing therapies for the spine,” Professor Elliott says.

“The people and the facility here at Flinders Tonsley are fantastic,” she adds.

The research alliance between Flinders University and the University of Delaware in the USA aims to get to the core of how function is lost in the discs in our spines during load-bearing, in order to develop improved artificial discs and tissue engineering repair treatments to improve musculoskeletal function.

Article by Tania Bawden.

Please note: You can watch Prof Elliott’s presentation online here –

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