Using engineering to strengthen human bones

More than 1.5 million bone fractures occur in elderly Americans every year, due to conditions like osteoporosis. A group of Purdue researchers has received a $2 million grant from the National Science Foundation to develop novel solutions to the bone fracture problem, using engineering principles.

Image:  Simulation of stress state in a radius bone where the bone structure is derived from a high-resolution peripheral quantitative computed tomography (HR-pQCT). Such models will be used to by the investigators to translate estimates of bone hydration modulation on small bone specimens to whole bone. (Purdue University image / Thomas Siegmund / Glynn Gallaway / Rachel Surowiec)


“As the American population grows older, bone fractures are going to become more and more of a problem,” said Thomas Siegmund, Professor of Mechanical Engineering, and principal investigator of the project.  “Current medical treatments focus on increasing bone quantity and density, but we are proposing a different approach which uses engineering concepts to rethink how to protect people’s bones.”

Siegmund is a solid mechanics researcher, who uses microscopy and computer modeling to study the fracture and fatigue of materials like metal and concrete. “We use the same diagnostic tools to study human bones,” said Siegmund.  “Every bone fracture is different and complex, and these systems are not totally understood by either medical science or engineering.  The more we can determine about how bones break, the closer we get to novel therapies to reduce bone fragility.”

The Purdue team is focusing on a concept called enhanced bone hydration.  Hydration of bone by water is known as an essential natural state of bone, but researchers are now interested how hydration can be altered under pharmacologically modulated conditions. Based on their fundamental research objectives on bone biomechanics, the team seeks to establish new knowledge on how this promising approach could guide deployment of hydration as a therapeutic approach.

Siegmund has assembled an interdisciplinary team from the fields of engineering, science, and medicine.  Co-principal investigators for the project include Laura Pyrak-Nolte, Distinguished Professor of Physics at Purdue University; John Howarter, Associate Professor of Materials Engineering at Purdue University; Joseph Wallace, Professor of Biomedical Engineering and Interim Chair of the Department of Biomedical Engineering at IUPUI; and Matthew Allen, Professor of Anatomy, Cell Biology & Physiology and Assistant Dean for Faculty Affairs at Indiana University School of Medicine.

The grant (NSF Award 1952993) is $2 million over four years.  It comes from the National Science Foundation’s program Leading Engineering for America's Prosperity, Health, and Infrastructure (LEAP-HI), which brings together interdisciplinary research teams to tackle large-scale quality-of-life problems.


Writer: Jared Pike,, 765-496-0374

Source: Thomas Siegmund,, 765-494-9766