Muscle redefinition wins ANZORS early career award

30 October 2015
Geoffrey Handsfield

Auckland Bioengineering Institute member Dr Geoffrey Handsfield won the Professor David Findlay Early Career Research Award at the Australian and NZ Orthopaedic Research Society (ANZORS) Conference earlier this month. ANZORS is Australasia’s most active orthopaedic research society, and as such its awards carry considerable prestige. Four finalists competed for the award; two from the University of Auckland, and one each from Flinders University (Adelaide) and the University of Otago, Christchurch. Dr Ju Zhang, the other finalist from Auckland, is also a member of the Auckland Bioengineering Institute (ABI). A special session was held on the second day of the conference, where the four award finalists each made a presentation.

Dr Handsfield’s area of expertise is the musculoskeletal system, where the advent of medical imaging has enabled a fundamental shift in our understanding of anatomy. Conventional knowledge of human muscle architecture has been based on cadaver dissection, which is limited by the old age, poor health, and a limited subject pool of cadaver donors. Technology such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) provides researchers with a non-invasive method of acquiring high-definition, accurate data from healthy living people.

In parallel with this shift, the study of anatomy has gone from being qualitative to quantitative; for example, where previously the object was identification of different muscles, researchers are now increasingly concerned with muscle size, shape and structure, and how this affects muscle function. The way muscles function is very closely related to their structure; for this reason, a better understanding of muscle structure in the body can lead to better insights into how they work.

Dr Handsfield’s conference presentation was on his research into the four-muscle group in the thigh known as the quadriceps. Currently in the field of anatomy, identification of these muscles in 2-dimensional (2D) and 3-dimensional (3D) is inconsistent. The 2D definition—what you see in a cross-sectional scan through the thigh, and the 3D definition—how the muscles are identified in the body or in anatomical drawings, should be consistent. But using 3D modelling techniques, Dr Handsfield showed that when the 2D cross-sections were rendered into 3D, they did not match the anatomical 3D definition. While some previous publications have correctly identified these muscles in 2- and 3D, many have not, and there has been little work to directly address this inconsistency.

Through his analysis of high definition MRI scans, Dr Handsfield went on to demonstrate that one part of the Vastus Lateralis, a muscle in the quadriceps group, has historically been misidentified. This muscle in fact has two parts – the Vastus Lateralis Longus and the Vastus Lateralis Obliqus. Once he had established muscle shape, he then went on to quantify the size of this second part of the Vastus Lateralis muscle in two populations—healthy non-athletes and elite sprint runners. He concluded that the Vastus Lateralis Obliqus is a sizeable portion of the quadriceps group that applies lateral forces on the knee-cap, suggesting that this portion of the muscle may have a role in knee pain and dysfunction.

Previous and new 2D definition of the Vastus Lateralis muscle, within the quadriceps muscle group.
Previous (left) and new (right) 2-D definition of the Vastus Lateralis muscle, within the quadriceps muscle group.

Dr Handsfield completed his PhD in Biomedical Engineering last year at the University of Virginia. He joined the Auckland Bioengineering Institute earlier this year to work in the Musculoskeletal Modelling Group with Associate Professor Thor Besier and Dr Justin Fernandez. Dr Handsfield is currently funded by the Whitaker International Program, which sends emerging leaders in U.S. biomedical engineering overseas to undertake self-designed projects that will enhance their careers within the field.


Study Co-Authors (University of Virginia):

Research support:


Insight and feedback:

Related links: