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Beautiful on the inside

A first-in-Canada lab looks at how people move — inside and out
January 27, 2014

By Suzanne Bowness

If you want to capture a body in motion from all angles, it makes sense to aim as many cameras as you can in its direction. That’s the set-up at Western University’s Wolf Orthopaedic Biomechanics Laboratory (WOBL, pronounced “wobble”), where 12 strategically positioned cameras aid researchers in helping patients with everything from bad knees to sports injuries.

But the lab’s director, Tom Jenkyn, wasn’t satisfied with just three dimensions. He wanted to see what’s happening on the inside. So in 2005, three years after establishing WOBL, Western opened the Wolf Orthopaedic Quantitative Imaging Laboratory (WOQIL, pronounced “walk-el”), one of only a handful of labs in the world (and the first in Canada) that can do just that.

Researchers at the Wolf Orthopaedic Quantitative
Imaging Laboratory (WOQIL) at Western University
use X-rays to see what is happening inside the
ankle and foot when the subject takes a step.
Video source: WOQIL

WOQIL is outfitted with six digital cameras that take pictures of the body’s movement from the outside and two 3-D fluoroscopic radiostereometric analysis (f-RSA) machines that simultaneously X-ray what’s happening inside. The data collected will help Jenkyn and his team better understand the biomechanics behind things like torn rotator cuffs and shoulders, spinal compressions and flat feet and orthotics.

With a foot problem, for instance, the f-RSA machines are aimed at a particular point on the foot and the digital cameras are trained on the rest of the body. As at WOBL, the patient is first fitted with sensors on various parts of the body. When the patient walks across the room, the cameras pick up the light that bounces off the sensors, recording how the patient moves and ultimately revealing how the motion triggers pain in the foot. Incorporating the data gathered by the X-rays, the images are triangulated to produce a 3-D image with what Jenkyn calls “phenomenal” accuracy, showing details as small as 0.05 millimetres.

If the information that’s accessible in the end is phenomenal, so too is the dedication needed to process it: four hours per minute. “A group of us meet every year at conferences to exchange ideas on how to speed up the process,” says Jenkyn, “but nobody’s come up with a way. My graduate students tend to have a harried look about them.”

Read more of our in-depth report on medical imaging.