Fighting osteoarthritis at the HMRL

Posted on December 02, 2015


Queen's researchers learn how bodies move

HMRL 1

The Human Mobility Research Laboratory (HMRL) is a state-of-the-art performance-testing facility where engineers, basic scientists and clinicians use sophisticated equipment to study the biomechanics of knee osteoarthritis and evaluate the effectiveness of innovative surgical and non-surgical treatments. It’s a large, open space with high ceilings, surrounded by 18 infra-red motion-capture cameras and equipped with six force platforms in the floor to measure joint loading, orientation and neuromuscular function as people walk and move.

Unlike traditional gait analysis labs that focus mainly on walking, the HMRL is specifically designed to measure the biomechanics of not only walking, but more demanding everyday activities, including jogging, jumping, stair climbing and high-performance athletic movements like cross cuts and side cuts. There is also an instrumented treadmill for gait analysis of subjects running up and down hills. “We want to look at more demanding activities because we have an aging population, especially aging boomers, who have much higher expectations of treatments for musculoskeletal problems. It’s not adequate to say we can help you walk better. People want to get off the couch, climb stairs, jog and return to sports,” says HMRL researcher Dr. Kevin Deluzio, professor and head of the Queen’s Mechanical and Materials Engineering Department.

A key focus of Dr. Deluzio’s research is to find non-surgical ways to slow or stop the progression of osteoarthritis and to prevent or delay surgical knee replacements. A recent study of osteoarthritis patients at the HMRL assessed the effectiveness of knee braces in early treatment. “Our results support the use of knee braces in clinical care and show that the brace was able to reduce joint contact forces on the knee in patients performing demanding activities. Even more interesting, the specific gait patterns that people possess predict who will benefit most, which could help in selecting suitable patients for treatment with knee braces,” explains Dr. Deluzio, who will also conduct tests to see if biofeedback can alter a patient’s gait to optimize treatment.

The HMRL is located in the Hotel Dieu Hospital’s ambulatory care centre, allowing Queen’s faculty and students to collaborate on research directly with orthopedic surgeons. “This facility is amazing. What distinguishes the lab from others is we have great access to clinicians and patients, and we have the space and high-tech equipment to assess patients doing more demanding activities,” says Liz Hassan, a PhD candidate in mechanical engineering.

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Hassan is working with Dr. Deluzio and a local pediatric surgeon on a randomized control study that compares a promising new ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) surgical repair technique—which may allow teenage athletes to return to their sports faster—with a commonly used standard technique.

“We stress the locomotion system, and this enables us to see exactly how the knee behaves as these athletes perform very demanding movements like running, jumping and cutting. Our study is a true-to-life comparison of the two techniques, which could allow people to return to high-performance activities faster,” says Dr. Deluzio.

Learn more about the HMRL here.

Queen's University Human Mobility Research Lab (HMRL) from Queen's Engineering.