The pain tormented U of M academic counselor Glenn Fuller
to such an extent that he could not sleep at night and that
walking was a major chore. But thanks to a medical operation
with a link to research at The University of Memphis, Fuller
is now pain free and can enjoy life again.
University of Memphis student Paul Henry is one of many
students who have worked for U of M researcher Dr. Shah
Jahan in the physics professor's cutting-edge laboratory.
Fuller has "new" knees, thanks to total joint replacement
surgery performed in early 1998. "Best thing I ever did,"
Fuller says. "The last year and a half before the surgery,
I could not sleep for more than an hour and a half; the pain
was so bad I would have to get up out of bed and walk around
for five minutes."
Many individuals like Fuller are lashing back at pain with
hip and knee replacements - nearly 2 million joint surgeries
were performed worldwide last year alone. The medical industry
grosses an estimated $4 billion a year in sales of joint replacement
materials. More and more people - from the elderly suffering
from arthritis to accident victims - are turning to joint
An integral part of the research that examines the manufacturing
of joint replacement materials occurs in the lab of physics
chair Shah Jahan at The U of M.
Dr. Jahan has teamed with several of the world's leading
medical companies and hospitals on collaborations designed
to improve and refine materials used to construct artificial
joints. His work helps maximize the integrity of joint replacement
Jahan and his research team consisting of U of M undergraduate
and graduate students use state-of-the-art laboratory tools
to analyze at the molecular level polyethylene, which is widely
used in the
reconstruction of human joints.
"What we do may seem very small, but it is very important
to the medical world in ensuring the integrity of their products,"
Jahan says. "It is important that the industries who
manufacture joint replacement materials and the surgeons who
are implanting them know what lies at the molecular level.
Is the material clean and does it have any defects?
"We test to see whether the materials themselves develop
any changes or problems as a result of being used in the human
body over a period of time. Or how the materials might change
as a result of mechanical tests or chemical processing that
the industry is doing."
Gamma radiation or chemical is used to sterilize joint replacement
parts. This process can lead to certain changes or formation
of free radicals polyethylene used to build the parts. Subsequent
long-term use can lead to other oxidative degradation.
Jahan uses electron spin resonance instruments to detect
the changes at the molecular level. A recent addition to the
lab - a $210,000 radical analyzer - puts The U of M in the
company of a select few.
"The instrument is the only one that can detect and
analyze free radicals," Jahan says. "Free radicals
can cause oxidation to biomaterials. None of the several major
medical companies in this area have this kind of machine nor
do many large companies around the world. They come to us
to analyze the materials they use to construct artificial
Though Jahan's work is mostly done at the microscopic level,
that doesn't mean it isn't weighty stuff. Among his research
partners are several heavy hitters in the medical industry:
Wright Medical Technology, Smith & Nephew, Zimmer and
Sofamor Danek. Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston and
Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico also use Jahan's
broad knowledge base and cutting-edge tools.
"There is a big advantage to working with universities,"
says Dr. Warren Haggard, vice president of Wright Medical
in Arlington, Tenn. "They normally have expertise in
different laboratory testing that we don't have at Wright."
Adds Smith & Nephew Director of Research Laura Whitsitt,
"Partnering with universities like The U of M allows
our company to ... deliver high quality new products to the
market. Working with Dr. Jahan on polyethylene materials has
enhanced Smith & Nephews' ability to provide the best
technology for polyethylene components in total joint products."
Researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital cite Jahan
as playing a key role in the development of modified and subsequently
better forms of polyethylene materials that are now in widespread
clinical use in hip and knee replacement products.
"What all this research means is a better product for
the patient," Jahan says. "It can dramatically improve
Jahan's research has had the most impact for medical companies,
but its other applications are just as important. At Los Alamos
National Laboratory in New Mexico, researchers rely on Jahan
and his instruments for a very important reason: to help protect
the safety and reliability of the U.S. nuclear weapons stockpile.
Shah Jahan, right, demonstrates an electron spin resonance
instrument to U of M students.
"We utilize his electron spin resonance (ESR) spectrometer
and his broad knowledge in this field to investigate aging
in polymers," Los Alamos scientist D. Wayne Cooke says.
"This research is one component of the nation's science-based
stockpile stewardship program whose intent is to ensure nuclear
weapon integrity in the absence of nuclear above-ground testing.
"Dr. Jahan is an internationally recognized expert in
techniques and applications of ESR to myriad scientific problems,"
The benefits for joint replacement patients and for the medical
industry and hospitals seem boundless. But the perks do not
stop there, according to Jahan. "This research brings
a lot of recognition to our University
- our work has been cited by many investigators and is recognized
nationally and internationally," the professor notes.
Jahan himself has garnered much recognition. U of M President
Shirley Raines noted his research at the May Convocation ceremony;
in 1998 he received the University's Distinguished Research
Jahan is director of the Memphis site of the National Science
Foundation-sponsored "Multi-University/Industry Cooperative
Research Center for Biosurfaces." Funding for research
at the center is provided by companies such as Wright Medical
and Smith & Nephew.
Jahan is quick to make sure his students reap benefits as
"The students who work here get hands-on experience
using very high-quality cutting-edge research tools,"
he remarks. "They get to make presentations at industries,
national and international conferences and they get to publish
their work - two of their recent papers have been on display
on a poster at Los Alamos National Laboratory.
"The students get to know industry people through this
program, and they gain employment opportunities," he
continues. "Many of our students get job offers before
The biggest benefit, Jahan points out, is to the patients
who can function normally again. Just ask Fuller.
"That surgery was the best decision I ever made,"
Fuller says. "I can walk again without a lot of pain
and can do the things in life I really enjoy like traveling."