Local research has international impacts
February 27, 2012
VAIL – There’s research going on in Vail that could have implications for the National Hockey League rules and regulations that dictate the size of goalie pads – and that’s just the beginning.The Steadman Philippon Research Institute, which operates in an inconspicuous space beneath the Vail Valley Medical Center, has scientists and doctors doing amazing things. Their work appears in prestigious medical journals, and they visit medical conferences around the world presenting their findings. Last year alone, the institute’s research appeared in 20 high-impact journals. That’s nearly two times a month that research done in Vail appeared in journals that are heavily read and cited within the medical world.”That’s our primary focus here – to present the research,” said Coen Wijdicks, director of biomechanics research and senior staff scientist at the Steadman Philippon Research Institute. That research is happening in state-of-the-art laboratories that have been part of the institute’s vision for more than two decades, only to be completed last year. The goal for the biomechanics lab “is to understand how injuries occur and what the demands on joints are for specific sports or motions,” according to the institute’s latest newsletter.The institute also hosts six fellows per year – many of whom are orthopedists who have recently finished residency, and some of whom are already established in the field, such as two current fellows – a Harvard faculty member and a team physician for the Boston Red Sox and New England Patriots. These clinical fellows in sports medicine all are required to do a fellowship research project, and they must publish their research. Wijdicks said the institute supports the fellows on the biomechanics side, but it’s the fellows’ responsibility to make sure the research makes it out to the masses. He calls the institute the “top gun” in terms of both fellowships and of the caliber of physicians who are accepted.”We get the top guns,” Wijdicks said.
Research, both by fellows and by institute scientists and doctors, includes topics such as tibial rotation strengths after ACL reconstruction with hamstring versus patellar tendon grafts. Another study looked at the use of incline treadmills for post-ACL surgery rehabilitation. One current study is looking at notches made in femurs during surgeries. The institute is studying how the notches, caused by surgeons who drop their tools onto the femur during surgery, significantly reduce femur strength after surgery. The implications of this study, which is being conducted by a fellow, could result in redesigning the surgical tools, Wijdicks said. It also could help create rehabilitation protocol for patients with a notched femur.”A follow-up study would look at when you notch it, how do you fix it,” he said. Then there’s research like the hockey goalie study that has impacts far greater than just within the medical field. Kerry Costello, a research intern in the biomotion lab, said researchers are looking at the risk of hip injuries to see if new goalie pad size regulations put goalies at a greater risk for injury. The study, which is being conducted with a Hockey Equipment Certification Council grant, looks at healthy hockey goalies and their movements with the old sized pads – 12 inches wide – and the new 11-inch-wide pads.”If we do find that the newer pads, the 11-inch ones, are putting goalies at a greater risk for injury – which is something Dr. Philippon noticed upstairs and has thought might be happening – then (the hockey certification council) may actually make some changes to the rules because of that.”The biomotion lab is a fascinating room filled with simulated surfaces for various sports – such as hockey ice and golf greens – combined with tons of cameras throughout the room that capture images of body movements. Costello said many athletes both pre- and -post operation come in for testing, as well as other healthy patients. “We have a lot of different studies going on right now,” she said.
A study happening next door in the biomechanics laboratory is looking at whether double bundle ACL reconstruction is more effective than single bundle. Early results are showing that single is just as good as double bundle, Wijdicks said, which goes against the hypothesis researchers had going into the study.”Our goal was to prove that double bundle is better, but we’re finding otherwise,” he said. “It’s a result that we were not expecting. You just have to be open (to what you find).”Research at the institute also comes in the form of practice. In the surgical skills lab, for example, surgeons can practice techniques on cadavers, said Kelly Adair, the manager of the surgical skills lab.”Surgeons will come in to practice with different products, different implants, different techniques – they can practice any procedure,” Adair said. “That’s very valuable for a resident or a fellow that isn’t familiar with a certain procedures.”The surgical skills lab is one of the highlights for fellows at the institute, Adair said. “Not every fellowship has a lab on-site where you can practice techniques,” he said. “Our fellows have full access to this.”The room is designed to mimic 10 operating rooms. It’s also designed to be a classroom for folks well beyond its walls – the audio/visual technology is set up so that mock surgeries can be broadcast via web or satellite. “We can capture a large amount of surgeons,” Adair said. The room is also used for product development for surgical tools and devices. Medical companies that design new products can rent out the surgical skills lab with consulting surgeons to fine tune their new products. “This is a revenue-generating source for the institute,” Adair said.Revenue-generating is music to the ears of the town of Vail, which recently partnered with the institute, the Steadman Clinic and the Vail Valley Medical Center to build medical offices on the town of Vail municipal site. Town officials have called the project important because of the overall economic impact generated by its medical partners. Lyon Steadman, CEO of the Steadman Clinic, has said the medical community, specifically the partners in the municipal site redevelopment project, want Vail to be come the Silicon Valley for orthopedics. An economic impact study done by Ford Frick’s Browne Bortz & Coddington Research Consulting, shows the medical partners already create as much as $100 million in economic impact to the Vail Valley as a whole.The institute would occupy about 14,000 square feet of the new building, which is on pace for a 2015 completion date.Assistant Managing Editor Lauren Glendenning can be reached at 970-748-2983 or email@example.com.