Sept. 22, 2021

Alumni Feature: Dr. Paris Vakiel

Measuring the impacts of changes in stress levels on knee joints
Dr. Paris Vakiel
Photo provided by Dr. Paris Vakiel

Dr. Paris Vakiel, PhD, is committed to advancing research in the biomechanics of human movement to improve health outcomes.

With a background in civil engineering and biomechanics, Vakiel’s interest in injury and orthopaedic biomechanics began during her research project under the supervision of Dr. Nigel Shrive, PhD, at the McCaig Institute for Bone and Joint Health. “I am interested in leading research in human movement biomechanics to hopefully improve health outcomes for people who suffer knee injuries such as torn ligaments,” says Vakiel.

For her PhD project, Vakiel focused on orthopaedic biomechanics, looking specifically at how stress affects the initiation and progression of post-traumatic osteoarthritis, a type of osteoarthritis that occurs after an injury to a joint.

Using kinematics and fibre optic sensor technology, Vakiel measured intricate changes in stress on the surface of articular cartilage in knee joints in an ovine (sheep) model. The research team used a parallel robot in the Biomechanics Lab, a unique piece of equipment that can mimic the motion of normal gaits allowing researchers to test samples in a highly accurate way. In using the parallel robot, the team simulated knee joint movements before and after injury to compare changes in stress levels on the cartilage surface. To measure the stress changes, Vakiel placed fibre optic sensors, approximately as thin as human hair, inside the knee joint and then analyzed the sensor response to gather data on the amount of stress placed on the joint.

“By incorporating fibre optic technology, we were able to create a reliable method of measuring the correlation between stress and joint damage,” explains Vakiel. “The main finding from our research revealed that the points in the joint cartilage surface that experienced the largest change in stress were the ones that exhibited cartilage damage.”

The study’s findings published in Osteoarthritis and Cartilage Open and Annals of Biomedical Engineering, confirm the important role stress plays in joint degradation following an injury. “After a ligament injury, it is important to avoid activities that increase stress on the knee and avoid changing walking patterns, as the research findings suggest that changing distribution of stress in a joint can create damage,” says Vakiel.

Recently, Vakiel started a joint post-doctoral research fellowship focusing on injury biomechanics between the University of British Columbia and the University of Victoria.