Having an abstract accepted and getting the opportunity to present a poster at the Orthopaedic Research Society’s Annual Meeting is a huge honor for any researcher. To do it as a sophomore is rare territory.
MU Bioengineering major Muhammad Salim did just that.
Salim, alongside Assistant Professor of Bioengineering Ferris Pfeiffer and recent MU Engineering graduate Lia Howe, published an abstract titled “Computational Modeling of Stress Relation in Articular Cartilage,” and Salim presented the accompanying poster at this year’s ORS Annual Meeting in March.
“I didn’t expect to get accepted. Just put it out there thinking maybe it’d get accepted, so when we found out it did get accepted, it was so amazing,” said Salim, who was able to attend thanks to help from the Honors College Experiential Learning Award and a travel grant from the Undergraduate Research Office.
“It really meant a lot when I went to the conference — I saw doctors there, grad students, Ph.D. students. Being able to be at the conference and see there were people who had similar interests, similar projects to mine that were at the same time completely different really showed that orthopedics and engineering really had such a wide range. What I learn in my classes applied to studies beyond just mine.”
The research utilized an open-source, computational modeling software called FEBio. Salim answered a call from Pfeiffer to come up with a way to utilize the software to improve cartilage testing. In order to test the health of cartilage, a full cylinder of knee cartilage is compressed and the stress-strain response, material properties, and static and dynamic loads are measured. The mathematical value of those measurements allows researchers to determine the health of the sample.
The problem is in order to get a significant test, force must be applied for nearly two hours, effectively ruining the ability to then test the sample’s biological properties. The simulation developed by Salim using FEBio allows for a sliver to be used rather than a full cylinder and trims the testing time down to mere minutes.
“We can use that method to extract some of these values out of there, take those values, compare them with the biochemical measures and begin to predict a little bit what the cartilage is doing as it begins to degrade,” Pfeiffer explained.
It wasn’t an entirely stress-free process. Salim worked constantly, tinkering with the program and overcoming various challenges to arrive at a computational model that accurately simulated the stress relaxation test. Eventually, persistence paid off.
“I was eventually able to find the best method to actually get out these characteristics of the cartilage for this meeting, and now I’m working on being able to implement that method. I’ve been really happy with what the results have been so far,” he said.
So, too, has Pfeiffer.
“For undergraduates, particularly not junior and senior undergraduates, to have a paper accepted to the ORS, I’ve personally not seen it,” he said. “That’s not common. … To have his work accepted, that’s pretty exceptional.”