camera is backbone of research
sophisticated high-speed camera has proved the key to
understanding the mechanics of spinal injury.
Ruth Wilcox, from the School of Mechanical Engineering,
has won plaudits across the globe for her research into
how the spine reacts under a major impact. The work is
a collaborative project between researchers from the School
and St James’s University Hospital.
– Ruth Wilcox
vertebrae from cows, she has been simulating a spinal
burst fracture – the kind of injury which might be sustained
falling feet first off a ladder, or diving into a swimming
pool without water.
heavy weight is dropped onto the vertebrae, and the impact
filmed at 4,500 frames per second. The whole event takes
only 20 milliseconds, but playing the film back frame
by frame shows exactly how the bones splinter and collapse,
giving a clear picture of the precise nature of injuries
sustained in such an accident.
arriving at hospital following spinal burst injury have
often shown no collapse of the vertebrae under X-ray,
and so damage to the spinal cord has often been underestimated.
fixing the camera to film down the spinal canal, Ruth
discovered that the vertebrae collapse inward under the
weight of the impact – but then spring back into shape.
The precise images shown by the camera have allowed her
and the team to measure exactly how much the canal closes
up, and so calculate the level of damage to the spinal
work has been recognised by the British Orthopaedic Society,
the Australian Society of Biomechanics, the Scoliosis
Research Society and the American Academy of Orthopaedic
and the team are currently continuing the research using
a gelatine mixture inside the vertebrae to simulate the
spinal cord, in order to determine more precisely the
effects of injury.