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Engineering colleagues awarded NIH grant to develop spinal cages

Mechanical Engineering Assistant Professors Christopher Yakacki and Dana Carpenter have received a National Institutes of Health (NIH) Exploratory/Developmental Research Grant Award (R21) to develop spinal cages.

Yakacki and Carpenter have partnered to establish the Smart Materials and Biomechanics Lab to discover new biomedical materials and to investigate uses for biomedical devices.

This new funding of more than $348,000 is supported by the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases. It is for their project “Porous, Patient Specific Interbody Fusion Cages with Enhanced Loading Characteristics to Reduce Subsidence”

The research interests of these colleagues complement one another: Yakacki studies the materials used to build devices, and Carpenter uses imaging techniques to create models of the devices and test their functionality.

To obtain a clinical perspective, the pair also collaborates with colleagues in the CU School of Medicine. Vikas Patel, associate professor in orthopaedics, and Andriy Noshchenko, a research assistant in orthopaedics, play an integral part in
the development of these devices. As the “end users”, their perspective is key to developing a successful, useful product.

Typically, spinal cages are made with titanium, carbon fiber epoxy or grafted tissue from a donor. However, Yakacki has found a polymer called polyparaphenylene that maintains strength when made into a porous material.

Through digital models of the spine, Carpenter is able to determine load distributions, and then uses imaging software to insert the device into the modeled spine to see how it will work.

The researchers say with this approach, they can simulate the amount of bone that will be absorbed, the mechanics of the bone and how it will interact with the device – over time.

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At the CU Denver College of Engineering, Design and Computing, we focus on providing our students with a comprehensive engineering education at the undergraduate, graduate and professional level. Faculty conduct research that spans our five disciplines of civil, electrical and mechanical engineering, bioengineering, and computer science and engineering. The college collaborates with industry from around the state; our laboratories and research opportunities give students the hands-on experience they need to excel in the professional world.

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