Research at iRSM involves both basic science and applied research. Research in basic science has been conducted in areas such as regenerative medicine and engineering. Applied research investigations have included a wide range of studies in relation to head and neck reconstruction and rehabilitation. These investigations have furthered knowledge of surgical technique, therapeutic treatment, and behavioral and functional outcomes. In addition, several initiatives in advanced manufacturing and digital technologies have also been accomplished through research in areas of biomedical engineering.
There are three components of iRSM’s research program: a clinical driver, a focused research agenda with five signature areas, and highly-skilled and clinically-integrated research groups to translate research findings into clinical knowledge
Advanced technologies for surgical intervention
iRSM is a global leader in the application of novel modelling and imaging technologies into medical practice. Medical modelling is the process by which anatomical data is used to create three-dimensional virtual or physical models that aid in visualization, and the planning and design of patient treatment. iRSM is leading the way in being able to replicate very complex structures using medical models for diagnosis, surgical planning, intra-operative navigation aids, design and construction of implants, prosthesis design and construction, and surgical template planning and construction. The Medical Modelling Research Laboratory (MMRL) at iRSM (est. 2004) is a state-of-the-art facility – a first in the global medical market designed to inspire multi-disciplinary exploration of digital modelling applications in medicine. Over the past decade, the work in the MMRL has evolved into new surgical design and simulation realms with the evolution of custom-made surgical templates and cutting guides for reconstructive surgical procedures such as the Rohner and Alberta Reconstructive Technique. This work has established iRSM as a leader in jaw reconstruction with expertise in the areas of jaw resection, microvascular jaw reconstruction, pre-prosthetic surgery and the use of osseointegrated implants in complex jaw reconstruction.
Reconstructive and bioimplantable materials
iRSM has had two decades of experience in providing clinically implantable materials for reconstruction of the cranium. In addition, we have collaborated with orthopedic surgeons to investigate implantable portions of the ankle, and scaffolding for the knee meniscus. Most recently, basic scientists in the area of tissue engineering and nanomedicine have been engaged to work with iRSM clinicians and technologists to create reconstructive and bioimplantable materials for nasal reconstruction. The aim of this research area is to find biocompatible and implantable solutions for reconstructive surgeries to eventually replace our current practice of transferring tissues from other parts of a patient’s body to the head and neck region.
By using advanced digital visualization technology in surgical planning, the institute is having considerable global impact in understanding and modifying approaches to head and neck reconstruction and rehabilitation. As a result, physicians and surgeons are able to personalize treatment planned for patients. This ‘personalized’ approach to health care is revolutionizing patient outcomes and expanding the body of knowledge clinicians consult to understand and predict functional outcomes for patients. iRSM’s work in the application of treatment outcome measures for the treatment and rehabilitation of head and neck cancers is particularly noteworthy. Research results and treatment efficacy evidence are helping to establish globally accepted treatment protocols.
Implantable hearing solutions
iRSM is a global leader in the application of osseointegrated implants as an interface for aural, facial and oral rehabilitation. The area of implantable hearing solutions continues to expand within iRSM, especially in the area of completely implantable bone conduction systems and their evaluation, prescription and verification. Collaboration with experts in biomechanical engineering, materials science, and microfabrication will open exciting new areas of research including wearable smart sensors and implantable smart surfaces.
Patient-driven research is an emerging area of growth in iRSM’s research agenda. In Michael Porter and Thomas Lee’s 2013 article in the Harvard Business Review, it was stated that “the only true measures of quality are the outcomes that matter to patients”. At iRSM, patients are being engaged to tell their stories in many different ways, including the use of arts in medicine, through participation in the creation of patient-reported outcome measures, and through direct involvement of setting the research agenda for head and neck cancer in the province of Alberta.
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