New research on the strength of children’s bones could help design safer car seats

Baby in car seat
13 March 2018

Specialists at Sheffield Chidren’s Hospital are involved in a pioneering study which uses computer models to study the strength of infants’ bones.

The research is being carried out by The University of Sheffield, Sheffield Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust and Sheffield Children’s NHS Foundation Trust and could help companies manufacturing children’s safety products, such as car seats, use the modelling of bone strength in designing and testing their products before bringing them to market.

The study is the first to look at infant bone strength in relation to age and weight using models developed from modern medical images. Researchers used CT scans and subsequent computer models to set up scenarios looking at how a different amount of force affects the bones.

3D models of thigh bones for newborns to three-year-olds were generated as this is the age range that has had the least research conducted in the past. There is also a period of rapid growth between these ages and the researchers were able to determine how bones developed during this time and how bone strength changed.

In addition to the child safety industry-based applications, the findings from the study can be used in future to aid clinical diagnosis. Bone fractures are common in childhood and account for 25 per cent of all paediatric injuries, but determing whether broken bone injuries are accidental or inflicted can be difficult in very young children who haven’t yet learned to speak.

Dr Amaka Offiah, Reader in Paediatric Musculoskeletal Imaging in the Department of Oncology and Metabolism at The University of Sheffield, and Honorary Consultant Paediatric Radiologist at Sheffield Children’s Hospital, said: “Due to the difficulties in obtaining paediatric bone samples there has been a lack of research to provide evidence-based information on bone strength in young children.

“If we can provide a table which shows bone strength by age range for different bones in the body, we can then calculate the force required to break that particular bone. This would help clinicians to use evidence-based information to decide whether an injury is accidental or inflicted, particularly for younger children who aren’t able to articulate how the injury occurred.”

The initial funding for the research was provided by The Children’s Hospital Charity.

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