In osteoarthritis, the quality of cartilage in joints deteriorates. The forces and movements in the body cause the cartilage to wear down. But which forces are at play exactly? And how can you change movements in such a way that the cartilage is damaged as little as possible? These are questions that Mariska Wesseling, postdoc at the scientific programme Medical Delta: Improving Mobility with Technology, investigates.
This interview is the fifth in a series of interviews with PhD students and postdoc researchers funded by Medical Delta. Mariska's research is funded by the Medical Delta scientific programme: Improving Mobility with Technology.
I graduated in Movement Sciences. I am interested in biomechanics, the movement and load on joints. This project fits in perfectly with that: I am doing research into the cartilage load in the knee in people with osteoarthritis. In osteoarthritis, the quality of the cartilage deteriorates and wear and tear occurs. I want to know exactly which forces and movements influence the knee joint and how we can prevent any wear and tear on the joint.
I do that by investigating models on different scales. The largest scale is the entire human body. By looking at the movements a person makes and the force required throughout their body, we can estimate how much force they need to apply in order to move their knee. So the forces at that higher level affect the smaller scale, the tissue and cartilage in the knee.
Initially, we would like to gain an understanding of the way in which forces affect osteoarthritis. Once we know that, we can propose a treatment which ensures that cartilage is not damaged any further. I therefore want to develop models in which we can simulate very precisely how someone should move in order to change the load on the knee. For example with a change in gait or a brace around the knee, a person can then alter the forces and movements in the knee in such a way that the damage is limited. Ultimately, I hope to ensure that such patients suffers less from osteoarthritis.
The involvement of doctors is very important to my research. For example, during my project I looked at movement in the knee when the cruciate ligaments were torn. I discussed with a surgeon how we should design our research. At first I thought that we should focus at the rotation in the knee. But by discussing this with the surgeon, we came to the conclusion that it would be better for me to focus on the contact between different tissues in the joint. Rotation is a complex movement that is difficult to describe, and it is clinically interesting to gain insight into the contact points.
By involving a doctor who is familiar with daily practice at the beginning of my research, I was able to make a good design for the study I wanted to do. I can recommend everyone in this type of research to seek immediate contact with the end user or doctor. That contact is what makes multidisciplinary research so much fun.
I think that multidisciplinary research is interesting in many ways. I have been involved in the supervision of a Master's student within the framework of the Thesis Lab Sustainable Hospitals, a collaboration between LDE and Medical Delta. In doing research, all kinds of equipment are used. The data we collect by doing so is often saved multiple times. This causes CO2 emissions. The health and safety of the patient is of course paramount, but that does not have to come at the expense of sustainability. A more personalised approach would be more efficient, allowing for a smaller ecological footprint. Further research should reveal what impact my research has on the environment, and what, if anything, we can change. I look forward to seeing the results!