“It’s fantastic to win this award as it helps put our research out in public” says Dr Megan Hadley, the lead author on the team which won the 2019 Thomas Hawksley Gold Medal. The award is presented for the best original papers published by the Institution during the past 12 months.
Megan says she was “flabbergasted” to win the prize, this being only the second paper she has had published - her other research is proprietary to DePuy Synthes, her employer. Nonetheless, the judging panel were impressed by the quality and value of her research and she is a deserving winner of the award.
Megan’s paper presents an improvement in the way hip replacement implants are tested. Today, most implants are tested in laboratories where they are put under stress to help assess their expected ‘lifetime’. The current approach assesses how long an implant would survive under continuous walking conditions in a lab. While this gives some idea of an implant’s potential lifetime, it is far from realistic – human beings stop, start, sit down and get up.
Along with her colleagues, Megan developed a new model for testing hip implants which more closely resembles ‘real world’ usage. In her model, the test implants go through a ‘walk, stop, dwell, start again’ model. This much more closely reflects how people move around – walking along, stopping to look at something, before continuing.
The most important finding of the research was that when Megan’s model was used, wear and tear on the hip implants increased significantly. It showed that most implants, in real-world conditions, last less time than if they are just put through a continuous walking test. The research could help surgeons and patients get a more accurate idea of how long hip implants will really last.
The research is especially important for Megan because “the medical industry does get a bad rap sometimes – so our research can help improve trust among patients”. Megan’s model provides a clearer and more transparent way of testing implants – a field she specialised in during her PhD at the University of Leeds which she completed in 2012.
And there are many possible avenues that the research can go down. “We’re looking at how we can develop the model further with more activities”. In future, the model could potentially include testing for sitting and standing, climbing stairs, and other dynamic kinds of movement to ever more accurately pinpoint the expected lifetime of implants. She and her team also hope to investigate surgical techniques, to assess how different insertion methods affect a hip replacement’s lifetime too.
Megan’s research goes beyond the laboratory. “We are working closely with the ISO (International Standards Organisation) and the ASTM (the US equivalent) to contribute new standards for implant testing” she explains. This could potentially mean that in future all implant designs would need to conform to the kinds of testing that Megan and her colleagues developed – showing just how far-reaching her research could be.
With around 100,000 people receiving hip replacements in England and Wales each year – a figure which is only expected to rise – getting a more accurate picture of the lifetime of individual implants will be invaluable. Thanks to the cutting-edge research carried out by Megan and her team at DePuy, patients can expect to get a much clearer understanding of the lifetime they can expect from hip replacements, and manufacturers can develop more effective designs.
For its potential impact alone, Megan and her team are worthy recipients of this year’s Thomas Hawksley Gold Medal.