By Wendy Sarubbi | October 15, 2012 2:08 pm

When you give your car the once-over, you always check the tires. They speak volumes about whether the vehicle is aligned and will drive straight without a struggle. Doctors always check a baby’s hips for much the same reason — to prevent trouble from a dislocated joint down the road.

Thanks to a $340,474 grant from the National Science Foundation, UCF researchers, including Dr. Charles Price of the UCF College of Medicine, will study how to improve treatment of developmental hip dysplasia by unlocking the mechanics of the Pavlik Harness, a device consisting of a series of straps to hold hip joints in place. The condition is common in newborns and children.

The principal investigator is Dr. Alain Kassab, College of Engineering and Computer Science/Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering (CECSMAE). In addition to Dr. Price, other researchers include the CECSMAE’s Dr. Faissal Moslehy and Dr. Eduardo Divo.

“The engineering department at UCF has been incredible…It’s a great collaboration between engineering and computer experts and the medical school,” said Dr. Price, professor of orthopedic surgery at UCF, chairman of the International Hip Dysplasia Institute (IHDI), and orthopedic surgeon at Arnold Palmer Medical Center.

The project has three goals: to figure out how the harness works; to  improve the treatment’s rate of success through development of a three-dimensional computer model; and to better identify solutions when the harness does not provide relief.

“Finding the best position for the straps is mostly trial and error now,” said Dr. Price.

Dr. Price said a three-dimensional computer model will help doctors understand the elasticity of muscles and how muscles react to tension on the harness straps.

“Using the model to figure out the optimum adjustment will be easier than working on a child,” he said.

The hip is a ball and socket joint; if the socket is too shallow, the ball, or top of the thigh bone, won’t fit securely. The joint won’t function properly and can wear out more quickly.  The harness is used only on children 6 months or younger, and is worn virtually 24 hours a day. Surgery is often needed for children diagnosed after 6 months or who do not improve through the harness.

Current methods of screening make hip dislocations difficult to diagnose, because pain often isn’t felt until the later stages. About 80 percent of the cases resolve on their own, Dr. Price said, but undetected cases account for about 10 percent of the adult hip replacements in the United States.

The IHDI had its beginnings when actor-comedian Larry the Cable Guy (aka Dan Whitney) and his wife Cara sought Dr. Price to treat their son, Wyatt, who was born with hip dysplasia. Impressed with Dr. Price and their son’s treatment using the Pavlik Harness, the family made several donations, including $5 million in 2010, to Arnold Palmer Hospital to fund the institute.

“The collaboration between the College of Medicine and the College of Engineering and Computer Science was crucial in the conception, realization, and success of our project,” Dr. Kassab said. “It draws upon the expertise from both colleges, functioning in an integrated and complementary fashion, to provide an engineering-based framework to better understand a practical medical problem and to explore treatment alternatives to improve patient care.”

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