Sept. 19, 2018

Study aims to improve early detection of osteoarthritis after knee injury

Biomedical engineering researcher Janet Ronsky develops non-invasive technique to spot subtle changes in cartilage function
Janet Ronsky and research participant
Janet Ronsky and research participant Don Molyneaux

A tumble on the ski hill or a slip on the sidewalk can prove to be traumatic on the knees short-term and potentially long-term. Suffering a knee injury increases the likelihood of developing osteoarthritis. Now a researcher in the Schulich School of Engineering at the University of Calgary is embarking on a new study to change the negative outcomes associated with knee injuries with new diagnostic techniques that will monitor the body for changes immediately following an injury. 

 “Currently, the gold standard of diagnosis is to use X-ray on knee injuries,” says McCaig Institute researcher Janet Ronsky, “However, that only works once physical breakdown of cartilage can be viewed. At that point we have much less chance of changing the progression the disease.”

Understanding mechanics and disease progression

Ronsky is using a 3-D imaging technique called dual fluoroscopy and MRI to look for changes in cartilage function in the body that can assist in predicting the risk of early post-traumatic osteoarthritis. “This is not an invasive procedure,” she adds. “Essentially, we are looking for a mechanical marker or a way to diagnose people early for post-traumatic osteoarthritis.”

Knee osteoarthritis is a leading cause of disability and rupture of the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) is a major risk factor for onset and development of post-traumatic osteoarthritis.

For this study, researchers will track 72 individuals with ACL deficiencies and 72 healthy individuals as the control group. “We will have a participant do a dynamic task like walking or standing on one leg, which will load their joint,” explains Ronsky. “We take fast images and we can see how the bones are moving together. For the standing case, if the rate the bones comes together is faster, this indicates that the cartilage is not as healthy. This is part of the individual cartilage 'signature' or mechanical marker. The 'signatures' between healthy and injured are very different.”

“If we can capture how quickly the degeneration is occurring we can identify people as high versus lower risk and it can then be used to target and evaluate therapeutic techniques to provide the right treatment at the right time,” she says.

Research based at Centre for Mobility and Joint Health

Ronsky’s interdisciplinary research team is based at the McCaig Institute’s Centre for Mobility and Joint Health (MoJo) located at the University of Calgary's Cumming School of Medicine. The new facility features state-of-the-art imaging, movement assessment, and diagnostic equipment.

Janet Ronsky is a Professor at the Schulich School of Engineering and Adjunct Professor, in the Faculty of Kinesiology and Cumming School of Medicine, University of Calgary. She is also the AITF iCORE Strategic Chair in Advanced Diagnostics and Devices. The University of Calgary’s multidisciplinary Engineering Solutions for Health: Biomedical Engineering research strategy is focused on developing solutions for pressing health challenges in disease and injury prevention.