Lekha Koria

Lekha Koria

Lekha Koria’s research provides a crucial academic foundation for understanding how osteoarthritis affects ankle joints. Findings from her PhD could aid the future development of medical devices designed to treat the condition.

Lekha is a student on the Centre for Doctoral Training (CDT) in Tissue Engineering and Regenerative Medicine research programme. She is based in the Institute of Medical and Biological Engineering and is part of the ‘foot and ankle’ research group. Drs Claire Brockett, Marlène Mengoni, and Elena Jones, also based in the Institute, are her supervisors.

Award-winning research

Lekha was recently rewarded for her academic excellence, receiving the MERCIA award from the Engineers Trust, the charitable trust of the Worshipful Company of Engineers. The MERCIA award is designed for postgraduate students working in the field of medical engineering, explained Lekha. It is awarded to students demonstrating innovative research on how engineering techniques can be applied to advance medical treatment.

She said: “I was honoured to have been nominated to apply for the award by my Institute. I won the award for my lay paper, ‘Improving orthopaedic surgical outcomes using finite element modelling,’ and this was celebrated online at the virtual awards ceremony.”

Funded research

The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) funds the CDT in Tissue Engineering and Regenerative Medicine and Lekha’s PhD project. To support her research placement, Lekha acquired further funding, which also meant she could travel internationally as part of her studies.

“I obtained further research funding from the MeDe Innovation PhD secondment scheme to support my research placement at Heriot-Watt University,” said Lekha. “I also received a prestigious travelling fellowship from the British Orthopaedic Research Society, which enabled me to widen my perspective and network across Canada and the USA.”

Understanding ankle osteoarthritis

The ankle joint is highly understudied compared to say, the hip or knee, explained Lekha. She was drawn to the idea of contributing to the field by generating this relatively unknown data which could then be used in numerous future research projects. The University’s interdisciplinary culture attracted Lekha, who has enjoyed working with a variety of scientists and engineers.

Lekha said: “I was attracted to the multidisciplinary nature of the project where I can work with so many talented scientists, engineers and clinicians. The ankle group has strong links to the clinic, so I was eager to obtain clinically-relevant findings from my work.”

The ankle group has strong clinical links, so I was eager to obtain clinically-relevant findings from my work.

Lekha Koria, Institute of Medical and Biological Engineering

She continued: “My research aims to characterise mechanical and structural properties of healthy and osteoarthritic (OA) ankle bone. This provides the foundations from which we can begin to understand how osteoarthritis progresses in the ankle compared to other joints, and how this affects the bones’ strength. This information is critical to the development of novel ankle replacement devices and in predicting a patient’s risk of fracture.”

“My research involves dissecting cadaveric feet to isolate the ankle bones from which to extract bone samples. These are then imaged using Computed Tomography (CT) and mechanically tested using our materials testing machines. This information and the CT data are then combined and developed into a computational model, which allows me to extract more mechanical information.”

Lekha added: “The project is joined with the Leeds Institute of Rheumatic and Musculoskeletal Medicine (LIRMM) where a fellow CDT student, William Jones, uses similar ankle samples to investigate ways of teaching the ankle to repair itself using its own stem cells. Furthermore, this project has provided me with the opportunity to develop skills in both materials testing and computational modelling techniques, which are well-established in iMBE.”

Institute of Medical and Biological Engineering

Within iMBE, Lekha explained, there are dedicated experimental and computational research groups, where postgraduate researchers can come together to present and discuss their research. This has been an invaluable experience which has enabled Lekha to exchange ideas and get feedback on her work or conference presentations.

“I was drawn to the CDT at the University of Leeds because of its ability to provide students with a well-rounded, multidisciplinary experience,” Lekha said. “During the Masters portion of the course we took modules in engineering, materials science, biology and even business and innovation with Leeds University Business School students. This gave me time to find a field of interest in which to pursue my research.”

“During my undergraduate degree I had taken modules in biomedical engineering that introduced biomaterials testing and medical device development, so I joined the CDT with interests in these areas. I was also attracted to the Institute of Medical and Biological Engineering (iMBE), in which the CDT resides, as it holds numerous academic, clinical and industrial collaborators as well as high quality research laboratories.”

Expert supervision

“My supervisors are incredibly supportive,” said Lekha. “Dr Claire Brockett is the head of the iMBE ankle group. Dr Marlène Mengoni is an expert in natural tissue modelling and has developed a Python-based optimisation toolbox that has been used extensively in my research. Similarly, Dr Elena Jones’ work focuses on the use of mesenchymal stem cells for the development of regenerative medicine for various musculoskeletal diseases.”

I am very fortunate to work with a fantastic team of engineers and scientists that have helped to guide and sculpt my research and continue to inspire me and support my personal development during my PhD.

Lekha Koria, Institute of Medical and Biological Engineering

She added: “I am very fortunate to work with a fantastic team of engineers and scientists that have helped to guide and sculpt my research and continue to inspire me and support my personal development during my PhD.”

Collaborative links

The iMBE ankle group has strong links to local hospitals through the Foot and Ankle Studies in Rheumatology (FASTER) programme. Additionally, there is an ongoing collaboration with Dr Uwe Wolfram at Heriot-Watt University to perform nanoindentation testing on our bone samples.

Lekha said: “The FASTER programme gave me opportunities to work closely with foot and ankle surgeons and even observe ankle surgeries in person. These links have also provided me with samples for my project, as it can otherwise be very difficult to source OA ankle bone samples.

“The collaboration with Heriot-Watt is providing a detailed insight into the mechanical alterations that may occur to tissue properties of bone with osteoarthritis. This can then provide validation data for the computational models I have developed.”