Micromechanical analysis of load transfer across the bone-cartilage interface in osteoarthritic knees

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This is one of two research projects studying the onset and progress of arthritis. KU Leuven is the home institution for this project. To view the Melbourne-based partner project, click here.

Articular joints are complex structures that rely on biomechanical and biological integration of two strongly dissimilar tissues: the hard mineralized bone and the soft cartilage. Where bone and cartilage are joined, both tissues possess specific adaptation strategies to solve biomechanical and biological dissimilarities. Subchondral bone has the challenging task of safeguarding the thin, avascular and aneural layer of articular cartilage from biomechanical and biochemical damage. Articular cartilage is anchored to subchondral bone thanks to an interface of mineralized cartilage which, in turn, is glued to bone through a thin interlayer called the cement line. The composition, the biomechanical properties and possible role in damage resistance of the osteochondral junction are mostly unknown. Nevertheless, the behaviour of this multi-tissue region is of clinical interest, as this is the area where fracture occurs between bone and cartilage in osteoarthritis (OA). OA is the most prevalent chronic joint disease, and there is no cure.

The aim of this project is to develop a computational framework that can accurately quantify (i) mechanical alterations (expressed in stresses and strains) in the transition zone between cartilage and bone; and (ii) transport of biological factors across the bone-cartilage interface. In collaboration with Dr Stok (University of Melbourne) the models will be validated using detailed ex vivo measurements of mechanical properties and fluid transport across the bone-cartilage interface in healthy and osteoarthritic human knees. The models will help further our understanding on the role of biomechanical factors in the onset and progression of osteoarthritis.

Project goals

To investigate the bone-cartilage interface of the musculoskeletal joint and uncover its role in the progression of osteoarthritis using novel mechanical, computational and bioimaging approaches with the specific aims to:

  1. Develop a computational framework to quantify stresses and strains in the transition zone between cartilage and bone.
  2. Establish a microstructural finite element analysis of osteochondral remodelling from in vivo longitudinal microCT data [link to the complementary UOM project: A microstructural model of osteochondral remodelling].

Together these projects will provide a framework to study the role of the bone-cartilage interface in the onset and progression of OA. It will find application in animal models of OA where it can be used to elucidate how load-induced changes in the subchondral bone can modify the stress transfer from cartilage to bone, even at the level of single cartilage cells. This framework will serve as a basis for developing similar models for predicting the onset and progression of OA in humans, which is highly needed for the prevention and treatment of the disease.

Supervision team

KU Leuven: Professor Harry van Lenthe

The University of Melbourne: Associate Professor Kathryn Stok

Who we are looking for

We are seeking a PhD candidate with the following skills:

  • Demonstrated experience in the field of biomedical engineering.
  • Demonstrated experience with scientific computation.
  • Demonstrated ability to work independently and as part of a team.
  • Demonstrated time and project management skills.
  • Demonstrated ability to write research reports or other publications to a publishable standard (even if not published to date).
  • Excellent written and oral communication skills.
  • Demonstrated organisational skills, time management and ability to work to priorities.
  • Demonstrated problem-solving abilities.

Further details

The PhD candidate will benefit from the combined expertise of the project supervisors, and the embedding into two research environments.

Professor Harry van Lenthe will contribute to the field of computational methods with an emphasis on high-performance computing using the finite element method. In addition, he will provide support in the structural and mechanical characterization of bone including micro-computed tomography imaging, image processing and analysis, and high-precision mechanical testing. Associate Professor Kathryn Stok's expertise is in microCT imaging, image processing and analysis and she will therefore contribute to the project in the field of experimental methods including micro-computed tomography imaging, image processing, image analysis, and high-precision mechanical testing of biological materials. The project will benefit from high-resolution microCT and GPU computing systems, chemical synthesis laboratories and the newly established Melbourne Mechanobiology lab equipped with single-cell and tissue-level mechanical testing, microscopy, cell-culture and biochemistry facilities. Access to animal housing and in vivo microCT is provided by the neighbouring School of Biosciences.

This PhD project will be based at KU Leuven with a minimum 12-month stay at the University of Melbourne.

The candidate will be enrolled in the PhD program at the Department of Mechanical Engineering at KU Leuven, and in the PhD program at the School of Biomedical and Chemical Engineering at the University of Melbourne.

To apply for this joint PhD opportunity, and to view the entry requirements, visit How to apply.

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