Research Programs

Research Laboratories

 

iRSM's signature research areas are delivered through leading activity in the following laboratories: Head and Neck Surgery Functional Assessment Laboratory, Stomatognathic Function Laboratory, Bone Conduction Amplification Laboratory, Interfacial Biomechanics Laboratory, and Medical Modelling Research Laboratory.

Head and Neck Surgery Functional Assessment Laboratory (HNSFAL)

The Head and Neck Surgery Functional Assessment Laboratory (HNSFAL) was established at iRSM in 2000 to address treatment outcomes in patients with defects of the head and neck.

Cancer surgery, adjunctive cancer treatment such as chemotherapy and radiation therapy, or severe trauma of the head and neck may have considerable impact on an individual’s oral function (speech, chewing, swallowing) and senses (taste, smell), thereby affecting quality of life. Clinical activity and research within the Head and Neck Surgery Functional Assessment Laboratory (HNSFAL) address treatment outcomes related to surgical tumor removal and surgical reconstruction in the head and neck region, adjunctive therapy for patients with head and neck cancer, and prosthodontic rehabilitation for patients with defects of the head and neck. Work in the laboratory addresses clinically-driven assessment and patient-perceptual assessment. This approach is directed at treatment outcomes and the impact on quality of life.

Collaborative research is at the core of all activities within the HNSFAL. Collaborative clinical research associations have been developed with surgeons from both Head and Neck Surgery and Plastic Surgery at the University of Alberta Hospital, radiation oncologists from the Cross Cancer Institute, prosthodontists from the Faculty of Medicine and Dentistry and speech scientists from the Faculty of Rehabilitation Medicine at the University of Alberta. Collaborative efforts with researchers from the Faculty of Engineering at the University of Alberta are vital in developing the future direction of the laboratory. Through the HNSFAL, several interdisciplinary research projects on functional outcomes after both prosthetic rehabilitation and surgical reconstruction in patients with head and neck cancer were completed. These research efforts have directed modifications of both surgical and prosthodontic interventions and have led to improvement of functional outcomes in our patient populations.

Stomatognathic Function Laboratory (SFL)

Financial support from the Alberta Heritage Foundation for Medical Research (AHFMR) helped to establish the Stomatognathic Function Laboratory in 2005. Literal translation of the word stomatognathic (‘stoma’ and ‘gnathos’ from Greek meaning mouth and jaw) describes what is studied in the SFL - mouth and jaw function. The SFL was established to house advanced instrumentation to use in understanding specific aspects of oral function, especially of the jaw. Within iRSM, the lab assesses jaw function in people who have defects of the head and neck region, including people affected by head and neck cancer, trauma and congenital defects.

SFL equipment facilitates assessment of jaw function in several different ways: how the jaw moves during chewing, evaluation of how four different pairs of muscles work together during chewing, and overall chewing efficiency. This allows better understanding of how disorders such as muscle imbalances may play a role in problems with chewing and how more normal function can be achieved. Several questions are raised in the assessment: Do our interventions make any difference in how easily a patient can break food down into small pieces that are easily swallowed? What surgeries result in better ability to chew? What prostheses work better? By understanding jaw function, the SFL aims to continually improve treatments to reduce and eventually eliminate chewing dysfunction in iRSM's patient populations.

Bone Conduction Amplification Laboratory (BCAL)

In 2002, the business leaders, directors and research fellows at iRSM, in association with the Caritas Hospitals Foundation and the Faculty of Rehabilitation Medicine at the University of Alberta, secured funding to establish the Bone Conduction Amplification Laboratory (BCAL). Research and clinical directives of this laboratory are devoted to a better understanding of what makes an appropriate bone conduction amplification patient, what technical assessment tools are needed to best assess a bone conduction amplification device fitting, and what functional outcomes are necessary to understand the whole patient.

The laboratory has a large anechoic chamber facility and is one of the only labs in the world dedicated exclusively to bone conduction hearing research. The BCAL is the first of its kind in Canada and is internationally recognized for bone conduction amplification research collaborating with centres in Sweden, the Netherlands and the United States. Most patients seen within the BCAL have difficulty getting sound through their outer and middle ears due to congenital malformations or chronic ear disease. Often, the patient's inner ear (the organ that is actually responsible for hearing) is intact. Implantable hearing devices are designed to bypass the outer and middle ear and stimulate the inner ear directly by vibrating the skull.

The Interfacial Biomechanics Laboratory (IBL)

The IBL was established in 2006 as a joint venture between iRSM and the Department of Mechanical Engineering at the University of Alberta. The lab provides a world-class research and training facility building biomechanical engineering capacity in clinical and applied settings. IBL work focuses on biomechanical research with particular interest in computer modeling of the use of osseointegrated implants in the jaw and their relationship to function. This knowledge will enhance surgical planning and simulation of reconstructive surgeries of the jaws. Through partnership with the University, undergraduate and graduate students are provided opportunities to engage in cutting edge research in biomechanics of craniofacial osseointegrated implants, jaw reconstruction, bone anchored hearing technology and surgical design and simulation.

Medical Modeling Research Laboratory (MMRL)

With federal funding from Western Economic Diversification Canada and support from the Caritas Health Group, iRSM developed the Medical Modeling Research Laboratory (MMRL) as a project extending into several faculties at the University of Alberta including Medicine and Dentistry, Engineering, and Rehabilitation Medicine, as well as the Department of Art & Design in the Faculty of Arts. The MMRL focuses on research and clinical services relating to application of advanced digital technologies and additive manufacturing to surgical design and simulation. Clinical application, research, education, and technology transfer serve as the cornerstones of development in medical applications at MMRL.  

Advanced digital modeling technologies serve as the building blocks for restructuring treatment approaches. Both virtual and physical medical models aid in visualizing, planning and designing patient treatment. Digital images can be translated into 3D models, which are then used for surgical design and simulation of cutting and drilling guides. The virtual guides are sent from the computer to a device that “prints” three-dimensional models that can be held in the hand. They are used as intra-operative navigation aids. Although iRSM will rely on medical modeling to advance care for head and neck reconstruction patients, the potential for these technologies spans the full spectrum of health care, including cardiac surgery, orthopedics, neurosurgery, diagnostic imaging, biomedical engineering and many other disciplines.