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Sunday, 10 November 2013 22:00

MSU research could provide early warning for bone degradation

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New technology being researched and developed in Michigan could help predict stresses or fractures in subjects ranging from bones to bridges.

A handful of Michigan State University engineering professors are more than five years into research on some potentially groundbreaking technology they hope to turn into a medical device that would be implanted into people with hip, knee and other implants.

The sensor technology being researched at MSU by Dr. Nizar Lajnef could be used to predict stress, fractures and deterioration in the bones around the implants.

“The principle we are after is degradation,” said Lajnef, assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering. “With time, there will be damage to (bones). Its performance will degrade.”

The sensors, which are still in the testing phase, are self-powering and recharge by vibrations. As a person walks or does basic exercise, the sensors are collecting the information and recharging, Lajnef told MiBiz. The data collected can be read and interpreted by a doctor who could then make recommendations for care well before something goes wrong.

“Batteries are not practical,” Lajnef said of the need for the new self-charging technology in an implanted device. “The lifetime of a battery … is maybe two to five years. … That’s where the idea of collecting energy from the environment or movement (came from).”

Lajnef and his colleagues have been working to produce prototype sensors at a time when people are increasingly likely to have a joint implant or bone repair in their lifetimes, according to health research. A 2007 study reported that hip replacements are expected to grow at a rate of 174 percent by 2030 while knee replacements are projected to spike 673 percent in the same amount of time.

While Lajnef said he believes the technology could be fully developed within the next three years, the sensors would need considerable testing by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) before actually going to market as an approved medical device.

That would require a lengthy testing process to ensure the devices are safe to be implanted and that they work as promised, a process that would likely include in vivo testing and clinical trials — which could take years to complete without setbacks, sources said.

But the team behind the sensor technology isn’t focusing just on its medical applications. Lajnef, whose research focuses on sensors in civil engineering, and Shantanu Chakrabartty, an associate professor of electrical and computer engineering who initially developed the concept, are also investigating how the self-charging sensor technology can be used to test for similar stresses and fractures in public infrastructure such as roads and bridges.

Using the same technology and basic principles as the medical device research, the researchers have studied using vibration from cars to charge sensors embedded in the infrastructure that send data about the condition of the roads to engineers. The data collected from the passive system could be used to detect stresses and fractures before they actually occur and could potentially save millions in construction repairs, Lajnef said.

“Right now, we have a person who will go out and look at the bridge or … the road and if they see a crack, they will schedule it for maintenance,” Lajnef said. “By then, it’s a little too late. Once the crack is on the surface, it’s really a pain to fix it. If we have sensors embedded beneath the material … it will wirelessly transmit the data to a central (computer).”

The technology development phase for the road and bridge sensors is the same as the biomedical aspect, Lajnef said. The U.S. Department of Transportation has pitched in a total of $1.7 million in grants to assist in the research. The Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) is also backing the project.

Currently, one of the large unanswered questions in the research phase hinges on how many sensors it would take to cover a given amount of road, Lajnef said.

The commercialization of complex technology stemming from faculty research is not new territory for a large university like Michigan State, said Richard W. Chylla, the executive director of MSU Technologies, the school’s technology transfer and commercialization office. Chylla and his team help faculty members commercialize technologies and copyrightable materials.

The office manages the university’s intellectual property, helps faculty members secure patents and works to market and license the technologies to startups or other companies. In a typical year, MSU Technologies examines around 130 new inventions developed at the university, Chylla said.

“We look at and evaluate for commercial potential,” Chylla said. “In a given year, we sign about 40 licensing agreements.”

Chakrabartty is also cofounder and chief technology officer for East Lansing-based Piezonix LLC, a startup company created to commercialize the self-charging sensor technology.

Piezonix is currently applying for Small Business Innovation Research grants, a federal research funding program that helps facilitate the early development of high-risk technologies, Chakrabartty said.

The grants serve as an alternative to venture capital or angel investing that allow an inventor to maintain his or her equity in the company, but that yield less funding than the traditional sources, typically maxing out around $2 million.

Read 2423 times Last modified on Saturday, 09 November 2013 12:20

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