SOLVE magazine Issue 02 2021 - Page 3


The mechanics of wellness

Technology is fixing broken bodies in ways that were science fiction a few years ago .

When serendipity strikes ,

it tends to have a backstory . Gordon Blunn is known for his pioneering technologies that transform the lives of people suffering loss of mobility through bone cancer , amputation or age-related joint degeneration . His is an extraordinary legacy for a biomedical engineer – and is unlikely to have happened had he remained a marine biologist .
The moment of serendipity that changed his career , and countless people ’ s lives , was the intersection of three chance influences – his belief in the link between physical mobility and emotional wellbeing , a postdoctoral marine biology assignment , and a job advert for a researcher to solve a medical implants problem .
The postdoc assignment was investigating microorganisms corroding condenser tubes used to cool power stations . The job advert was to investigate the corrosion of titanium medical implants and the build-up of a biofilm that leads to infection … similar , he mused , to the marine corrosion he was examining .
“ So I went for the job , got it , and ever since have sort of diversified a bit ,” he says .
As he is the ‘ parent ’ of three medical device companies , “ diversified a bit ” is quite the understatement .
As Theme Director of Health and Wellbeing at the University of Portsmouth , Professor Blunn now integrates bioengineering ( and the mobility it bestows ) with mental health , pursuing his conviction that physical and mental wellbeing are intrinsically linked . It gives musculoskeletal research , sports science and mental health a shared goal .
Working with the Royal National Orthopaedic Hospital , Professor Blunn invented the JTS Extendible Bone Implant – an ingenious device that replaces extension surgery with a routine trip to an outpatient department . The limb is put through a doughnut-shaped magnet that drives a gearbox to extend the prosthesis .
The device is now so popular with surgeons that the spin-out company established to meet global demand ( Stanmore Implants Worldwide Ltd ) was recently purchased by Stryker Corporation for £ 39 million .
TEAM ORTHOPAEDICS Professor Blunn says the game changer is the ability to link advances from across disciplines : “ Engineers are interested in developing new design concepts alongside computer modelling to investigate how implants perform in the body ,” he says . “ Pharmacists are developing new biomaterials . Biomedical scientists research the cellular interactions with biomaterials .”
One of Professor Blunn ’ s devices undergoing clinical trials involves integrating human body imaging , 3D printers , biomechanics , biomaterials and cellular biology .
CHILDREN GROW , IMPLANTS DO NOT Professor Blunn ’ s awareness of the power of multidisciplinary research is seen in one of his most successful innovations – one that helps children treated for cancer in the long bones of their arms or legs .
To avoid amputation , surgeons remove the tumour while saving a segment of bone to attach an implant . The bioengineering challenge is that tumours tend to occur towards the ends of bones where new growth occurs . Consequently , this means the remaining bone ( and its attached prosthesis ) cannot grow with the child and so requires repeated limb extension surgery .
Engineers are interested in developing new design concepts alongside computer modelling to investigate how implants perform in the body .
– Gordon Blunn
BODY PARTS TO ORDER The ability to use 3D printers to customise tumour-replacement implants to an individual patient means a better fit , leading to faster recuperation , improved return of function and fewer long-term complications . Another project is creating metal implants with a porous surface that imitates bone , right down to the nanotopography . “ 3D printing means you can print a porous structure . This allows bone growth to integrate and stabilise the implant .” Tumourreplacement implants that incorporate these innovations are now being trialled in the UK and Australia .
ISSUE 02 / 2021