NIH awards Halilaj $2.7M

Sep 8, 2022

The National Institutes of Health has awarded Eni Halilaj a $2.7M research grant to study movement patterns that are predictive of post-traumatic osteoarthritis after anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) reconstruction surgery.

ACL rupture, sustained by nearly 400,000 Americans every year, can be a contributing factor in the early onset of knee osteoarthritis, but it is unknown why some patients develop this debilitating disease and others do not. Halilaj, an assistant professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering, will lead a team of collaborators investigating gait adaptation patterns that place certain patients at risk.

The five-year study will follow nearly 90 patients from the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC) for a year and a half after their ACL reconstruction surgery. Laboratory gait analysis and biomechanical simulations, wearable sensing of natural environment movement, and video analysis of physical therapy performance will be collected at multiple time points to characterize each patients’ post-surgical adaptation.

These functional data will be used to predict long-term changes in knee cartilage health, obtained with quantitative Magnetic Resonance Imaging (qMRI).

According to Halilaj, who directs Carnegie Mellon University’s Musculoskeletal Biomechanics Lab, precision rehabilitation is now a feasible goal for post-traumatic osteoarthritis prevention due to recent advances in wearable sensing and computer vision technologies that can passively track patient movement in both free-living and physical-therapy settings.

It is still unclear, however, what aspects of the data collected by these emerging technologies are most predictive of future disease and therefore most pressing to target early.

“This work hopes to close the loop between research and clinical practice, informing the design of new technology-assisted rehabilitation practices that are effective at intervening early to correct maladaptive gaits,” said Halilaj. “It aims to move us toward a preventative model of care that will maximize the lifespan of natural joints and reduce the need for total joint replacements at a relatively young age.”


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Lisa Kulick,