Biomechanics and in silico medicine

The department's Industrial Bioengineering group carries out research along two strands: Biomechanics of the musculoskeletal system and Safety and efficacy of medical products and devices.

The biomechanics group focuses on musculoskeletal biomechanics, applying the tools of experimental mechanics. Activities cover basic research as well as problems of clinical and industrial relevance in orthopaedics.

  • Multi-scale skeletal characterisation
  • Hip biomechanics
  • Spine biomechanics
  • Pre-clinical validation of implantable devices
  • Development, validation and optimisation of instruments for orthopaedic and dental surgery
  • Measurement of deformations within structures using Digital Volume Correlation (DVC)
  • Study and biomechanical characterisation of regenerative materials

Brief description of the activities of the subject area and main lines of research

The department's Industrial Bioengineering group carries out research along two strands:


Biomechanics of the musculoskeletal system

The group uses in silico, ex vivo, and in vivo research methods to investigate how the human body exchanges forces internally and with its environment, particularly in the presence of musculoskeletal pathologies.  Activities cover basic research as well as problems of clinical and industrial relevance in orthopaedics.  Some specific research topics:

Multi-scale characterisation of the skeleton
Understanding the pathophysiology of the skeleton generally focuses on the organ level (the bone).  This research aims to complement information from lower (tissue) and higher (limb, organism) dimensional scales, starting at the organ level.  Studies focus on structural characteristics, stress distributions and fracture mechanisms in healthy bone segments (of different ages) and pathological cases (e.g. osteoporosis, metastases).  Particular attention is paid to the shape-function relationship of the bone, and its multi-scale structural optimisation.

Biomechanics of pathological bone fractures
We study using experimental and computational methods, often supported by imaging techniques, the mechanical strength of bones under physiological and pathological load conditions, as well as the effect of diseases (e.g. osteoporosis) or treatments (e.g. implantation of a prosthesis) on bone fracture risk.

Prediction of bone fracture risk from CT data
We have developed and extensively validated a method that allows us to predict the fracture risk in a patient using CT images.  The main application is fracture risk assessment in osteoporotic patients as a guide for treatment selection. The method can also be adapted to predict the risk of fracture in metastatically injured bones, or in patients with diabetes.

Hip biomechanics
Activities concerning the hip joint focus on:

  • Deformation analysis in the proximal femur
  • Structural optimisation analysis of the femur
  • Evaluation of implant stability of femoral and acetabular components of hip prostheses
  • Stress transfer between prosthesis and bone

Research in this area uses experimental and numerical methods developed over more than 20 years of work on the hip.  These activities have a value both for basic research (better understanding of fracture mechanisms and bone pathologies) and for application (optimisation of hip prostheses and osteosynthesis systems).

Biomechanics of the spine
Activities on the spine focus on:

  • Mechanical characteristics (distribution of deformations, fracture mechanisms) of healthy and pathological vertebrae
  • Biomechanical behaviour and stability of the spine affected by primary tumours
  • Biomechanical behaviour and stability of the spine affected by vertebral metastases
  • Study of vertebral body strengthening techniques (vertebroplasty, kyphoplasty, augmentation)
  • Treatment techniques for intervertebral disc injuries
  • Characterisation of correction and fastening systems
  • Biomechanical validation of regenerative materials

The studies use synthetic models, ex vivo tissue tests from animals, and human donor specimens.

Differential diagnosis of dynapenia
Dynapenia is the pathological loss of muscular strength, an event that is often behind adverse events such as falls in the elderly, failure of joint replacements, progressive motor disability, etc. Loss of strength may be caused by loss of muscle mass, loss of innervation, or deterioration of motor control. There is currently no instrumental procedure that allows differentiating between these three causes, which require very different treatments. Our research aims to develop a differential diagnosis tool based on magnetic resonance imaging, dynamometry, electromyography and customised computer models

Development of full-field measurement techniques using Digital Image Correlation (DIC) and Digital Volume Correlation (DVC)

We have developed an innovative method that allows us to simultaneously measure deformations in bone tissue, soft tissue and implanted devices. 

Digital volume correlation makes it possible to measure displacements and deformations within structures.  This project is carried out in collaboration with the University of Sheffield and the University of Portsmouth.

Activities include both basic research (validation and optimisation of acquisition and processing parameters) and applied research (e.g. stress assessment in healthy, pathological and treated spinal segments).

Centre of Excellence on HPC in Computational Medicine
The European project COMPBIOMED, which is funding this centre of excellence, sees our group responsible for developing a large-scale simulation of the long-term modulation of bone fracture risk of new pharmacological treatments for osteoporosis.

Safety and efficacy of medical products

STRITUVAD: In the European STRITUVAD project, our group is responsible for assessing the credibility of predictive models of response to new treatments for tuberculosis.

MOBILISE-D: in the European project MOBILISE-D, our group is responsible for the regulatory qualification of the use of wearable sensors for mobility monitoring in pharmacological studies.

Pre-clinical validation of implantable devices
The group has over 20 years of experience in the pre-clinical validation of implantable devices.  We collaborate with orthopaedic surgeons and manufacturers on the revision, validation and optimisation of traditional and innovative prostheses.  

Tests are performed on the devices themselves, according to ISO, ASTM etc. standards. For example:

  • Fatigue strength of hip prostheses
  • Static and fatigue strength of screws and osteosynthesis plates
  • Mechanical resistance of spinal correction instruments

Moreover, we perform dedicated functional tests, such as:

  • Preliminary analysis of possible failure scenarios
  • Stress transfer from the implant to the bone
  • Mechanical stability of the implant

Development, validation and optimisation of instruments and techniques for orthopaedic and dental surgery

In collaboration with clinical partners and companies, the group participates in the development of:

  • Systems for the intra-operative measurement of the stability of orthopaedic prostheses
  • Implantable sensors to monitor prosthetic stability
  • Innovative techniques for the reconstruction of long bone fractures (e.g. humerus, radius, femur)

Development and biomechanical characterisation of regenerative materials

We work with Italian and foreign biomedical companies in the optimisation and validation of materials for bone regeneration in the orthopaedic and maxillofacial fields. With the internal electrospinning group of this department and the Department of Chemistry (Electrospinning Research Group) we develop electrospun scaffolds for soft tissue regeneration.  In fact, we developed a scaffold with a hierarchical structure capable of replicating the morphology and mechanical properties of tendons and ligaments.

SPINNER Specialised programme on materials and techniques for spinal surgery

SPINNER is a postgraduate programme for young researchers in Bioengineering who are educated to occupy positions in the design of materials and state-of-the-art techniques for spinal surgery. SPINNER brings together partners in biomaterials (Finceramica), implantable devices (Aesculap), computational modelling (AnsysAdagos), industries with orthopaedic clinicians (National Centre for Spinal Disorders, NCSD) and academic experts in cell testing, organ and tissue biomaterials and medical devices (Universities of Sheffield and Bologna).

A groundbreaking initiative, METASTRA, is set to transform the way clinicians assess fracture risk in cancer patients with vertebral metastases. The ambitious project funded by the EU’s Horizon Europe “Tools and technologies for a healthy society„ Calls promises to provide personalised treatment recommendations based on robust computational models and improved patient stratification techniques. Coordinated by the University of Bologna, METASTRA brings together 15 partners from different European Member States, receiving a total funding of 6.7 Mil EUR over the next five years. With an avid and visionary work plan, the international, multidisciplinary research team is poised to make a substantial impact on the lives of cancer patients and the healthcare system as a whole.

Professors and Researchers

Luca Cristofolini

Full Professor

Marco Viceconti

Full Professor