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Research Collaboration Focuses on Painful Hip Condition

University of Kentucky researchers are in search of answers for those who suffer from a painful hip condition known as Femoroacetabular Impingement Syndrome (FAIS). Although the condition can be experienced at any age, it often impacts the young and athletic, bringing their active lifestyles to a halt.

Patients are impacted both emotionally and physically, says Dr. Michael Samaan, a faculty member in the UK College of Education Department of Kinesiology and Health Promotion.

“I talk to patients who say ‘I have so much pain, I cannot squat to pick up my kid when I get home from work,’” he said.

Samaan, who came to the university in 2018, joined a team working to gain a better understanding of how the condition develops and the long-term impact on patients who have surgery. They hope their work will lead to better treatments, or perhaps even prevention, in patients shown to be at-risk of bone and cartilage problems in the hip.

As a new father, Samaan has developed a better understanding of the daily difficulties his research subjects report.

“The first person who runs to the door is my son,” he said. “If I wasn’t able to squat down and pick him up, that would destroy me.”

Samaan, who was most recently a post-doctoral fellow at the University of California San Francisco, was attracted to UK as he explored faculty positions across the country. During his postdoctoral fellowship, Samaan gained the expertise and skills needed to apply advanced musculoskeletal imaging techniques which allow for a quantitative understanding of the effects of FAIS on hip joint cartilage health. He saw the university as being uniquely positioned to study a condition like FAIS. As one of a handful of universities across the nation with a land-grant mission and a medical center and academic units on one contiguous campus, UK provides researchers the opportunity to more easily collaborate across specialty areas.

“Working as part of a multi-disciplinary research team was a priority of mine,” Samaan said. “It is the best way of obtaining a comprehensive understanding of the effects of FAIS on hip joint bone and cartilage health and mechanics.”

At UK he joined faculty specializing in FAIS, including orthopedic surgeons who performs surgical interventions for the condition, radiologists with expertise in assessing images of conditions such as FAIS, a physical therapist/biomechanist who conducts extensive work with patients who have undergone ACL reconstruction, engineers with expertise in advanced biomechanical modeling and researchers who are examining the psychosocial aspects of FAIS.

Samaan, who is trained as a mechanical and biomedical engineer, specializes in biomechanics, which involves applying mechanical principles to the human body. At UK, he has access to a biomechanics laboratory, the Human Performance Lab, where extensive and sophisticated research is conducted, such as 3-D motion analysis.

The level of technology and expertise focused on FAIS is likely welcome news to those who suffer from the condition. A couple decades ago, the standard regimen for treatment involved referring patients to physical therapy and giving patients cortisone shots. Today, many FAIS patients experience pain-relief by undergoing surgery for the condition, and are able to return to their previous activity levels. Part of the UK team’s work focuses on following up with patients after surgery, gathering data on its long-term impact on hip joint health and function.

Samaan’s research received a boost when he received an award late last year from the UK Center for Clinical and Translational Science’s KL2 program. It is a career-development award that provides research training and mentorship to junior faculty in developing a clinical/translational research program. Ultimately, the goal of the program is to aid junior faculty in obtaining the skills needed to obtain large-scale federal research funding.

Serving as Samaan’s primary mentor for career development is Dr. Brian Noehren, an established researcher in the UK College of Health Sciences. He is a physical therapist with a Ph.D. in biomechanics and movement science, and Samaan says their research aligns nicely.

While Samaan is being mentored in the development of his research career, he is also providing mentorship for future generations of clinicians and scholars. As a faculty member in the Department of Kinesiology and Health Promotion, Samaan is teaching courses that are helping undergraduates learn about biomechanics and graduate students study musculoskeletal modeling.

Whether as a teacher, researcher, or scholar, Samaan makes it a priority to make connections with people. Behind the advanced technologies and interventions, he always keeps in mind the human lives that are impacted.

“Anyone who comes through my lab as a study participant, I always ask them what their story is,” Samaan said. “Conditions like FAIS take a toll on people physically, emotionally, and mentally. We need to consider all the patient is going through. At the end of the day, you want people to be happy in their lives.”