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The bones of people who died up to a hundred years ago are being used in the development of new treatments for chronic back pain.
It is the first time old bones have been used in this way.
The research is bringing together the unusual combination of latest computer modelling techniques developed at the University of Leeds, and archaeology and anthropology expertise at the University of Bristol.
With Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) funding, spines from up to 40 skeletons housed in museums and university anatomy collections are being analysed in the research.
The data generated, on different spine conditions and on how spines vary in size and shape, is playing a key role in the development of innovative computer models.
This will enable the potential impact of new treatments and implant materials (such as keyhole spinal surgery and artificial disc replacements) to be evaluated before they are used on patients.
Ultimately, it will also be possible to use the models to pinpoint the type of treatment best suited to an individual patient.
Minister for Universities and Science David Willetts said:
“Back pain is an extremely common condition, but everyone has a slightly different spine so developing new treatments can be a real challenge.
“This investment could significantly improve quality of life for millions of people around the world, so it’s fantastic that the research is being carried out in the UK.
“It’s also truly fascinating that old bones and very new technology can come together to deliver benefits for patients.”
This is the first software of its kind designed for the treatment of back conditions. The research will also speed up the process of clinical trials for new treatments, which currently can take up to ten years.