University of Oxford
Oxford Uni joint 3D model
A skeleton displaying parts of the human anatomy which can be examined - The knee, hip and shoulder are highlighted in blue.
Researchers from Oxford University have created interactive 3D models of human joints showing how common medical complaints have arisen and how skeletons may evolve in the future.
The 3D computer models were made by compiling 128 slices CT scans of bones from humans, early hominids, primates and dinosaurs. In all, 224 bone specimens were scanned, spanning 350 million years from the Devonian period to the modern day.
By using 3D engineering and mathematical methods the group has produced 3D ‘morphs’ to plot changes in the shapes of species throughout the human lineage. This has provided new insights into the morphological trends associated with common orthopaedic complaints, such as anterior knee pain and shoulder pain.
Samples used in the study were from shoulders, hips and knees. They have enabled the researchers to make mathematical comparisons that could be used as planning tools for orthopaedic surgery. By comparing the modern and ancient samples, the team hopes to gain a better insight into the origins and solutions to common orthopaedic complaints.
Oxford Uni human joint 3D model shoulder
A close-up of Oxford University's 3D model of a human shoulder
“Throughout our lineage we have been adapting the shape of our joints, which leads to a range of new challenges for orthopaedic surgeons,” said Dr Paul Monk, who led the research at the Nuffield Department of Orthopaedics, Rheumatology and Musculoskeletal Sciences. “Recently there has been an increase in common problems such as anterior knee pain, and shoulder pain when reaching overhead, which led us to look at how joints originally came to look and function the way they do.
“These models will enable us to identify the root causes of many modern joint conditions, as well as enabling us to anticipate future problems that are likely to begin to appear based on lifestyle and genetic changes.”
Similar to those gone before us, human bones and joints will continue to evolve, which means Dr Monk and his team are looking in to ways surgeons can adapt these changes. As a result, there are a number of questions about human growth and development that researchers want to answer.
“Current trends reveal that the modern shapes of joint replacements won’t work in the future, meaning that we will need to re-think our approach for many common surgeries. We also wanted to see what we’re all going to look like in the future, and to answer questions such as ‘are we evolving to be taller and faster or weaker’ and ‘might we be evolving to need hip replacements in the future?’”