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By wearing an array of sensors that feeds live data into a computer, Lillie Wacaster helps researchers at Shriners Hospital in Chicago study how children with orthopaedic challenges walk. The analysis is part of a multimillion-dollar research project led by Marquette biomedical engineering professor Dr. Gerald Harris.


Lillie, 15, has osteogenesis imperfecta,

a rare condition also known as brittle bone disease that makes her especially

For Harris, who spends a few days each month at Shriners, it’s the latest step

less severe form of the disease, lab workers

in a career-long commitment to helping

at Shriners recall one OI patient who broke

children with orthopaedic challenges. He

both femur bones simply by sneezing.

says helping kids is a driving force for

aged 20 or so, have many fractures. Some

everyone involved. “That’s what motivates them, the fact

have had as many as 50 or more,” says

that they’re really having a positive impact

Harris, who co-authored a new book

on these children and their families,” says

on OI that will be published this spring.

Harris, who also directs Marquette’s

“They represent a very fragile patient —

Orthopaedic Research & Rehabilitation

but a patient that has tremendous capacity

Engineering Center. “At Shriners, they

for increasing the quality of life.”

care for those kids for 18 or 19 years. The

Harris and Marquette are part of a

children keep coming back. We have a long

research consortium that includes higher

history of quantitative assessment, and

education and health care partners in

it’s sort of like the well that you can keep

Milwaukee and Chicago. The group,

going back to for more encouragement.”

called Tech4Pod — technologies for

Harris’ team uses a relatively new

pediatric orthopaedic disabilities — was

technology, called nanoindentation, to

designated a national Rehabilitation

measure bone fragments removed from

Engineering Research Center by the U.S.

OI patients during surgery. In the past,

Department of Education in 2010 and is

those fragments simply were discarded.

funded by a five-year, $4.75 million grant. The consortium also includes Shriners


and other orthopaedic issues.

vulnerable to fractures. Though Lillie has a

“These children, by the time they’re


clubfoot, spina bifida, spinal cord injuries

“But now, we can take those tiny little fragments and we can actually

in Chicago, the Rehabilitation Institute

get the material property information,”

of Chicago, the Medical College of

Harris says. “We’ve put that into a series

Wisconsin, the University of Wisconsin–

of models so we can predict fracture in

Milwaukee and the Milwaukee School of

these children.”

Engineering. Together, they’re developing

By combining data gathered from

new tools and improved treatment strate-

bone fragments with gait analysis —

gies for children with cerebral palsy, OI,

plates in the floor of the gait lab at

Discover 2013  

Every spring DISCOVER: Marquette University Research and Scholarship showcases some of the most interesting research happening on Marquette'...

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