Shefelbine Awarded Fulbright to Study Skeletal Mechanobiology

Photo of Sandra Shefelbine

Shefelbine Hopes Fulbright Award Creates Opportunities Beyond Her Research

Refresh, rejuvenate, and develop new collaborations. Those goals are just the tip of the iceberg for Professor Sandra Shefelbine, mechanical and industrial engineering, jointly appointed in bioengineering, who was recently awarded a Fulbright Futures Scholarship to study skeletal mechanobiology at the University of Melbourne from January to August 2021.

Shefelbine wants to explore how mechanical forces influence bone development, in particular with elite athletes. Specifically, single sport youth athletes can develop hip issues. Basketball, ice hockey, and soccer players can sometimes have their femur bone form differently.

“As an engineer, this is fascinating,” Shefelbine said. “What about how those sports impact how the bone grows? This condition forms during adolescence but can affect performance at the professional level. Nobody knows what is causing it, but if we can learn that, we can then prevent it.”

Called femoroacetabular impingement (FAI), the condition occurs when the shape of the hip joint changes. Participation in adolescent sports can potentially affect how bones are shaped as a young athlete is growing.

It’s important to study how mechanics affect bones as they grow, Shefelbine explained. From there, different forms of therapy can be developed to help prevent FAI from happening.

Shefelbine is currenting studying  FAI in elite youth athletes and has characterized “hip motion during sports practice, analyzing changes in proximal femoral head morphology using medical imaging, and measuring balance of hip musculature.”

At the University of Melbourne, Shefelbine said she will be working in mechanical engineering and biomedical engineering.

First, Shefelbine will focus on more whole body questions, looking at how people move. Along with Marcus Pandy, a Professor of Mechanical and Biomedical Engineering  at the University of Melbourne, Shefelbine will utilize his data set on people measured in a full body motion capture lab.

The Fulbright research will also integrate research on injuries that sprinters often sustain in their hamstrings. Cameron Nurse, who recently received his Master’s in bioengineering, was a varsity sprinter during his undergrad at Boston University. Nurse sustained multiple hamstring injuries and was curious as to why.

“We measured mechanics during sprinting and found interesting lopsidedness,” Shefelbine said. “We want to know: are they having injuries because they are lopsided or vice versa? We will probe that with a computational model. We want to understand, if you run a certain way, what implications does that have for your muscles?”

Additionally, Shefelbine said she will be working with Kathryn Stok, another professor at the University of Melbourne. Stok’s research focused on cartilage. Seeing how the mechanics of cartilage change in arthritis, for example, can help in understanding what can lead to a joint getting to that level, Shefelbine said.

While the Fulbright research could lead to improvements with athletic training and even prevent future injury, Shefelbine added that she loves how the Fulbright scholarship also involves being an ambassador for your country.

“At this time, our country needs good ambassadors,” Shefelbine said. “Through academic exchanges like this, we can show that our country is more than what is seen on the news. The focus is not just on how many papers you’re going to publish with your research. You’re a representative of the United States.”

Related Faculty: Sandra Shefelbine

Related Departments:Bioengineering, Mechanical & Industrial Engineering