Rockford researchers receive NIH grant to further study what happens when joint replacements break down

Mathew T. Mathew

Researchers at the University of Illinois College of Medicine campus in Rockford received a boost to the work they are conducting on joint replacements in the Regenerative Medicine and Disability Research Laboratory with the help of a two-year grant of $159,000 from the National Institutes of Health.

Researchers Mathew T. Mathew and Divya Bijukumar are studying how joint replacements, such as those used in hip replacement surgeries, break down in the body after years of wear and corrosion. Mathew is the Cedric W. Blazer Endowed Professor and Bijukumar is an assistant professor in biomedical sciences.

Divya Bijukumar

Joint replacements can mean a return to a better quality of life in which patients can resume normal tasks, such as walking, caring for themselves and working. However, as with many treatments, some side effects have been reported.

The degradation of these metal joint implants can release into the body what are called nanoparticles, incredibly small materials that have unique properties at that size that may allow them to affect cells in harmful ways, according to Bijukumar. Earlier research suggests that these nanoparticles can be associated with neurological conditions. 

“This new research will help us get a better understanding of how these nanoparticles may be causing health problems such as vision and hearing loss, nerve damage and even problems related to the thyroid gland and heart muscle damage,” says Bijukumar. “Then, we can look for novel ways to counter the adverse effects on orthopedic patients.”

The research is innovative in its use of a hip joint simulator, a machine that mimics the repetitive motion of a joint at a faster pace to achieve similar results to years of wear. In addition, the simulator is interfaced with a bioreactor that mimics the dynamic conditions in the body allowing the study of the toxic effects of the nanoparticles on nerve cells. The researchers will compare the degradation products that result from the metal joint’s wear using this method to those that have been previously available for research.

“This research will provide a key understanding of the basic mechanisms that underlie the neurological complications caused by degradation particles and will help us find future approaches for new treatments to counter any adverse effects on patients who have joint replacements,” Mathew said.