Sensors monitor the healing of fractures
9/20/2023 Digitalisation News

Sensors monitor the healing of fractures

Screws and other metal elements are used to stabilise broken bones in the healing process. Scientists at the Technical University of Hamburg are now developing sensors in the "SmartFix" research project that can be used to monitor how the bones grow together.

doctor looking at bones
"At four per cent, bone fractures are among the most common operations in Germany," says TU Professor Andreas Bahr, head of the Institute for Integrated Circuits. He is involved in the research project with partners Innovations Medical GmbH and Berufsgenossenschaftliches Klinikum Hamburg. In order to be able to follow the healing progress of broken bones, Bahr is developing an electronic measuring system that is attached in the form of sensors to the so-called external fixation. This is a holding system made of metal rods that is attached to the bone outside the body with screws, stabilises it and brings individual fragments back into the correct position.

Advantages compared to classical methods

The metal elements transfer the forces acting on the fixation and thus relieve the fracture. This enables patients with lower leg fractures, for example, to put partial weight on their leg and retain some mobility despite the fracture.
Professor Andreas Bahr
The further the healing process of the bone progresses, the more forces it resumes itself and the metal rods of the fixation are less stressed. And that can be measured.
Professor Andreas Bahr, Head of the Institute for Integrated Circuits at TU Hamburg
This is where the "SmartFix" project comes in: Strain measurement sensors on the metal elements allow continuous measurement of the healing process with the help of wireless data transmission to a receiver device. Patients can thus return to everyday life more quickly because healing is recognised immediately and, for example, physiotherapy can be individually adapted. On the other hand, poorly progressing healing can also be detected as early as possible. Compared to classical monitoring with X-rays taken at intervals of several weeks, this procedure is potentially more accurate and reliable. It can also protect those affected from radiation exposure.

Andreas Bahr would like to develop the technology even further: "With the help of a signal tone via mobile phone, the patient could be warned in case of overstraining. That way, he can assess which movements are possible without endangering the stability of the fixation or the healing process." Until that time comes, the measuring systems have to be evaluated in a clinical feasibility study, which is planned for 2025. The project is funded by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research.
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