"I saw the effect of Bucknell on students — on myself and on my classmates. It is just such an amazing university, with amazing teachers and great facilities. It is exciting to come back and be part of that."

Knee surgery used to leave a scar running the full length of the joint. Today, arthroscopic techniques leave little more than faint dimples to indicate where quarter-inch incisions were made to snake a tiny camera and surgical instruments in to repair the joint. Arthroscopy, however, is difficult to do on hip joints. Too many nerves and blood vessels run through the area, not to mention how tight the ball-and-socket joint is and how deeply it is buried in the body. Besides the eventual scars, the large incisions required for traditional surgery also mean longer recovery times and greater risk of infection. Some surgeons perform arthroscopic hip surgery, especially on professional athletes, but it is not always successful.

Assistant Professor of Mechanical Engineering Emily Geist is developing better tools for the job. Thus far, she has created a computer-aided system to determine the position and orientation of the surgeon's tools relative to patient anatomy. "The surgeons can look up on the screen and see, 'Okay, here's the femur, here's the sciatic nerve, here's an artery,'" she says. "As they move their tools around, instead of having to rely solely on the camera image, which is a very small, fuzzy image, they can see this large view that zooms out and shows them where their tool is relative to all this critical anatomy."

Geist's work could someday allow more patients to avoid full incision hip surgery, and possibly even avoid the need for some hip replacements. Some studies have suggested that performing arthroscopic procedures early on to fix small problems like smoothing out a rough bone surface or removing a loose body in the joint could reduce the number of hip replacement surgeries that are necessary later on. Geist looks forward to talking with local doctors to get their suggestions. "We need input from surgeons, so having Geisinger so close to Lewisburg is a huge benefit," she says.

Joining the Bucknell faculty is a homecoming for Geist, who received her bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering at the University in 2003. Research experience as an undergraduate hooked her on the field and on Bucknell. "I saw the effect of Bucknell on students — on myself and on my classmates," she says. "It is just such an amazing university, with amazing teachers and great facilities. It is exciting to come back and be part of that."

Posted Sept. 22, 2009

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