A detailed finite-element model of the human skeleton may now let researchers estimate the strain put on healthy vertebrae during back surgery. The 91,000 element model, originally developed by Toyota for auto safety studies, contains detailed spines and vertebrae. Once Alan Dang, president of Dang Orthopedics, (dangorthopaedics. com) had access to the cervical spine model, he used finite-element software to isolate the biomechanical effects of cervical spine fusion, a common procedure to ease back pain.

Setting up the detailed and large finite-element models, as well as zooming in and out and rotating sometimes several models and views at one time, required heavy duty graphics hardware. Dang selected Nvidia Quadro GPUs (graphic processing units) for the task of driving several displays at once.

“The GPUs quickly drive several monitors, some with 30-in. displays running at 2,560 x 1,600 resolutions. The graphics hardware let us simultaneously load several 3D models and documents without running out of graphics power, or compromising visual fidelity or system stability. It let us focus on the research instead of troubleshooting the equipment,” says Dang.

As a result of his work, surgeons have quantitative data on the biomechanical effects at adjacent vertebrae following cervical spine fusion. This information will guide future research in artificial vertebral disc replacements and hopefully reduce the incidence and severity of postsurgical complications such as accelerated arthritis.