University of Calgary

Knee replacements

Engineering better technology for knee replacements

U of C research could help reduce knee pain and improve surgical results

By Jennifer Sowa

Karen Ho (left) studied with French surgeon Dr. Jean-Louis Briard at a hospital in Rouen, France. / Photo: courtesy Karen Ho

Karen Ho (left) studied with French surgeon Dr. Jean-Louis Briard at a hospital in Rouen, France.
/ Photo: courtesy Karen Ho
A fascination with biomechanics comes naturally to an active person such as Karen Ho.

The biomedical engineering master’s student enjoys a range of sports and is currently training for a half-marathon. Ho’s research at the Schulich School of Engineering reflects her personal interests, too. She’s investigating medical imaging, with a focus on measuring joint mechanics in the knee.

Thanks to a travel fellowship from the International Society for Computer Assisted Orthopaedic Surgery, Ho recently spent two weeks with surgeons in France. It was an extraordinary research opportunity and a unique experience for an engineer: shadowing surgeons on the job and watching knee replacement surgeries in the operating room. Ho even performed a knee replacement herself on a model, using artificial bones.

“It was valuable to see things from the surgeons’ perspective and see how the end user applies the tools that are developed by engineers,” says Ho. “It was a great way to see the clinical applications of research.”

Ho collaborated with three French surgeons on a research paper that she presented in February at the Orthopaedic Research Society conference in Las Vegas. It detailed how the surgeons, for the first time ever, used computers in the operating room to measure the movement of the kneecap immediately before and after performing knee replacements.

Half a million North Americans have knee replacements every year. Most are elderly patients whose knee joints have deteriorated because of arthritis. Up to 25 percent experience pain in the area of the kneecap after surgery.

“Reducing pain directs all this research,” explains Carolyn Anglin, Ho’s supervising professor at the Schulich School and co-author of the research paper. “By using computers to make surgeons more aware of the tracking of the kneecap during the procedure, they can adjust the position of the components before they finalize the surgery.”

Anglin, together with master’s student Jack Fu and research assistant Jeff Wai, is developing her own computer-assisted surgery system to guide surgeons when cutting the kneecap.

“Currently, nothing is guiding surgeons when they’re cutting the kneecap,” she says. “Poor cuts have been linked to greater pain. If we can develop a system that is quick and easy to use and increases the accuracy, we might decrease the pain after surgery.”