Biomechanics of Thoracolumbar Spine: Injury prevention in military operations

University of Birmingham - School of Mechanical Engineering

The University of Birmingham and the University of Melbourne are offering this joint PhD co-funded by both institutions providing the opportunity to study alongside world-leading academics in Birmingham and Melbourne.

Thoracolumbar (TC) spinal compression injuries remain a significant problem in military vehicles subjected to IED events; these injuries can lead to chronic back problems or even paralysis. In order to prevent TC spinal injuries, various measures have been implemented such as occupant restraints and shock attenuating seat systems. However, gauging the effectiveness of these systems has significant limitations due to the problems with the current spine injury criterion, the Dynamic Response Index (DRI). The DRI is based on very limited cadaver and operational data and its validity is continually questioned, but development of a new injury criterion remains prohibitive as the relationship between different forces/ accelerations and the severity of spinal injury is not well defined.

In this project, we propose to develop a Finite Element (FE) model of the TC spine and validate the model using cadaver data. Military-related loading scenarios will then be input into the model in order to develop a new injury criterion. The specific tasks in this project are:

  1. Construct a model of the TC spine that is geometrically accurate;
  2. Incorporate realistic material properties;
  3. Design and fabricate apparatus for in vitro testing of spine segments;
  4. Validate results against in-house cadaver experiments and literature;
  5. Work on the formulation of a TC injury criteria based on the individual spinal segment level responses like rotation, translation, stress and strain (as opposed to gross level responses).

The novelty of the proposed study is the departure from the quasi-static regime to embark on dynamic and shock loadings specifically for military - type applications. In these scenarios, there have been few previous studies and the human biodynamics and tissue responses become highly complex.

The entry requirements for the Birmingham/Melbourne Joint PhD are either:

  • An upper second-class four-year honours undergraduate degree in a relevant subject
  • An MSc/MRes in a relevant subject

Applications are made online at the University of Birmingham website. Click on the 'Apply' button below or on the relevant University course finder page and you will be taken to the University of Birmingham Postgraduate application system. Within the application, at the Programmes open for Admission page, please select ‘EPS/University of Melbourne Joint PhD 3.5 years’. Please detail the supervisor and project title under the Research Information section of the application form. Applications should include a statement of research interests. Applicants are encouraged to contact prospective supervisors informally to discuss the project.

Additional Funding Information
A fully-funded studentship, which includes tax-free Doctoral Stipend of £14,296* per annum, is available for Home/EU and Overseas students on this Joint PhD programme between the University of Birmingham and the University of Melbourne for October 2017 start. For engineering students who are to be hosted by the University of Melbourne, the scholarship rate will be $AUD26,388 p.a. and will include provision for a return trip to Birmingham.

*subject to inflationary variation

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Midlands of England