EORS grant winner visits AO Research Institute Davos

A first person account of the European Orthopaedic Research Society (EORS) Exchange Travel grant winner's visit to the AO Research Institute, Davos.

24 September 2013

Julia (front) with Ana-Maria Stanciuc in the cell culture laboratories.

From August 7 to September 3, 2013, Dr Julia Blackburn visited the AO Research Institute Davos (ARI) as part of a European Orthopaedic Research Society (EORS) Exchange Travel Grant. Blackburn is a resident in Trauma & Orthopaedics in Bristol (UK) and has an Academic Clinical Fellowship from the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) which allows her to spend 25 percent of her time doing research and 75 percent doing clinical work.

Julia shares some of the highlights of her visit

I was fortunate to win an EORS Exchange Travel grant to visit the AO Research Institute in Davos, Switzerland after meeting Prof Geoff Richards at the EORS Annual Meeting in Amsterdam in 2012.

At the AO Research Institute Davos, I had the opportunity to spend a week with each of the four programs to get a broad experience of the work of the AO. I was fascinated by everything I saw and was inspired by the enthusiasm and knowledge of all the people I spoke to.

On Musculoskeletal Infection

Working with Marina Sabaté Brescó, under the supervision of Dr Fintan Moriarty, I was able to experience the difficulties of developing in vivo models of infection, first-hand. It proved hard to titrate the dose of bacteria required for a clinical infection without causing fractures from osteolysis. It was also interesting to talk to Dr Inga Potapova about her research into antibody probes to diagnose infection and hear about projects within the BALI: Biofilm Alliance. → Musculoskeletal Infection Group

On Biomedical Services

At a lovely summer BBQ, I was introduced to the Biomedical Services group by Dr Boyko Gueorguiev-Rüegg. I enjoyed making sacral fracture fixation models with Gaston Camino then testing their stability with the help of Ivan Zderic and some motion-tracking cameras. It was also interesting to talk to Daniel Widmer and Walter Ocampo about using Finite Element analysis to model fixation of proximal humeral fractures. With the help of Yash Agarwal, I was able to make measurements from radiographs to monitor lower limb deformity correction as part of an ongoing project.

On Musculoskeletal Regeneration

With so many thought-provoking projects in this large group, it was exciting to talk with the group leaders Dr Sibylle Grad, Dr David Eglin, Dr Martin Stoddart and Dr Sophie Verrier about their work. → Musculoskeletal Regeneration

I was fascinated to hear about the history of the polymer group, from absorbable implants for maxillofacial fractures to drug-eluting polymers and scaffolds that allow interaction with implanted cells. The intervertebral disc regeneration group has bespoke bioreactors for whole organ culture of discs taken from a calf's tail, and I was fortunate to see Dr Marianna Peroglio, Milena Janki, and Stephanie Caprez prepare the discs for culture.

The research I have been doing involves human osteoblasts and bone marrow-derived stem cells, so it was particularly interesting to talk to Dr Marietta Herrmann about her work healing large bone defects and Dr Jennifer Bara who is optimizing stem cell culture systems for future routine clinical use in musculoskeletal repair.

On Preclinical Services

Having heard a lot about in vivo studies from the other three groups at the AO Research Institute Davos, I was keen to see how these are performed in the Preclinical services group. Fortunately, I was able to learn all about these studies from Dr Markus Wilke, the Head of Preclinical Services.

Every morning the animal care takers discuss the health and welfare of the animals. I enjoyed helping with their care. It was also interesting to watch the vets at work, particularly for procedures such as radiographs or CT scans.

A true collaboration

While I appreciated the time I spent with each individual group, I was most inspired by the collaborative working between program groups. I attended a number of meetings both within groups and between groups that resulted in lively and constructive discussion of ideas and potential solutions. After my visit to AO Research Institute Davos, I am definitely motivated to apply for a Medical Research Fellowship and undertake a research project within this stimulating environment.

I would like to thank EORS for this Exchange Travel grant, and everyone at the AO Research Institute Davos who have been so friendly and welcoming. Visiting the AO Research Institute Davos has been a fantastic experience that has inspired me to continue my research interests alongside my clinical work. It was also a great networking opportunity that I hope will result in collaborative research projects between Bristol and Davos.

The Exchange Travel grant

The European Orthopedic Research Society offers the Exchange Travel grant twice a year to support residents in training or PhD students to study or work at a participating institution for a period of 2 to 4 weeks. Grant submission deadlines are March 31 and September 30.

Julia (third from left) with fellows and PhD students in front of the AO Center Davos.

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