Dr Sophie Williams has been appointed as a Royal Academy of Engineering Senior Research Fellow at the University of Leeds, where she will continue developing the engineering expertise necessary to deliver artificial hips with more reliable outcomes.

Current artificial joints are tested in laboratory simulators to assess how they will wear over time. However, people vary in size, shape and how they move, which, coupled with the way in which hip replacements are positioned in surgery, can mean artificial replacements face different types of stresses depending on the activity of the patient.

Testing methodologies to date have not fully accounted for these factors, so Dr Williams’s research will develop novel ways of testing hip replacements in the laboratory by including anatomical elements, to test how bone shape and placement of hip replacements affects performance.

Using a half-pelvis and femur, either created from 3D printing or human tissue that has been donated for scientific research, hip replacements will be implanted and the different loads and motions experienced clinically will be simulated.

As well as wear of the materials, these tests will consider real-life scenarios that are seen in patients and inform engineers and surgeons in factors to consider to optimise patient outcomes.

While Dr Williams’s research is focused on simulating hips, her work could have implications for other joints in future.

The Fellowship is supported by DePuy Synthes, a leading manufacturer of total hip replacements and the only orthopaedic company to have a major research and development base in the UK. The partnership with the Royal Academy of Engineering aims to develop this world-leading position with technology that benefits an ageing population with an increasing demand for implants and hip replacements.

Dr Williams explained: “Whilst today’s implants are highly successful, recent studies in the literature detail that sub-optimal outcomes can occur because of impingement and sometimes even dislocation of the joint. The new tools we will develop as part of the Fellowship will help assess the effect of anatomical and surgical positioning of the implant on how well the hip replacement will function.”

Professor Ric Parker CBE FREng, Chair of the Academy’s Research Committee, said: “From Research Fellow to this new, senior appointment, the Royal Academy of Engineering is proud to support Dr Williams as she advances the field of medical engineering.”

Dr Williams began her career in materials science and clinical engineering, and studied different materials in hip replacements for her PhD. Having further researched factors that affect wear in hip replacements in her post-doctoral research, she developed an experimental simulator for the natural hip as an Academy Research Fellow and is now bringing the areas of her expertise together, in an anatomical simulation for hip replacements.

Notes for editors

  1. Royal Academy of Engineering. As the UK’s national academy for engineering, we bring together the most successful and talented engineers for a shared purpose: to advance and promote excellence in engineering. We provide analysis and policy support to promote the UK’s role as a great place to do business. We take a lead on engineering education and we invest in the UK’s world-class research base to underpin innovation. We work to improve public awareness and understanding of engineering. We are a national academy with a global outlook.

    We have four strategic challenges:
    - Make the UK the leading nation for engineering innovation
    - Address the engineering skills crisis
    - Position engineering at the heart of society
    - Lead the profession
  2. The University of Leeds is one of the largest higher education institutions in the UK, with more than 31,000 students from 147 different countries, and a member of the Russell Group research-intensive universities.

For more information please contact:

Aaron Boardley at the Royal Academy of Engineering
T: 020 7766 0655
E: Aaron Boardley