Visiting Researchers and Students

2020/21 Somerville House Science Internship Program

Georgie with A/Prof Paige Little, Maree Izatt and PhD student Rachel Chalmers

In 2020-21 the BSRG again supported the Somerville Student Internship Program with our third cohort of enthusiastic student interns. As part of their science internship, Associate Professor Paige Little asked Georgia Watson and Emily Smart to design and 3D print a device that could securely support a doctor’s smartphone while the phone was measuring a scoliosis patient’s chest asymmetry. The device designed needed to be suitable for any phone size and also allow room for a phone case. The students were supported to learn to use engineering software program ‘Solidworks’ and the design would ultimately be 3D printed and used in clinics, doctor’s offices and hospitals. Despite the difficulties endured due to Covid-19 lockdowns, the internship programme was a great success!

When Georgie and Emily were asked about their internship experience they said, “The internship has taught Emily and I so much. Not just about engineering, scoliosis and spine research but about the reality of a career in research!  Learning the skills needed to gather data, design, test and 3D print our device using advanced engineering software has been so valuable.  We were treated as real members of the Spine Research Team, not just as inexperienced high school students. We were given responsibilities and allowed to voice our opinions and come up with ideas and solutions to what we thought was an impossible task at the beginning of the 12-months. We started out being so unsure and lacking in confidence that we would be able to tackle this engineering task. I know already that the work we have done here in this internship, has set us both up so well for our future endeavours whether that be in engineering or another science field. On behalf of Emily and myself, we would like to thank the QUT Spine Research Group again and especially A/Prof Paige Little for giving us the confidence and skills to create our universal scoliometer prototype device”.

Tanya Noack (January – March 2020)

Tanja Noack, a medical engineering student from the University of Stuttgart, visited the BSRG (Jan – March 2020) to work on her Master Thesis. She was funded by a scholarship from the German Academic Exchange Program (DAAD). Her thesis contributed to the BSRG’s existing patient-specific modelling software, which creates computer models of adolescent patients with scoliosis. Geometry for bone, ligaments and muscles representing a scoliotic spine will be integrated into an existing musculoskeletal model of the spine, previously developed by the Human Movement Simulation Laboratory at the University of Stuttgart under the direction of QUT Adjunct Prof Syn Schmitt.

During her time with the BSRG team, Tanja was supervised by Dr Paige Little, our Senior Research Fellow. She used the BSRG custom-software DicomTilt to obtain the patient specific geometry and to define the muscle and ligament attachment points. In addition, Tanja learned how to run our custom-developed Finite Element (FE) modelling software (VirtuSpine) in order to extract biomechanical data for a patient specific scoliotic spine. Using the results of the FE simulations, patient specific kernel-models of the intervertebral discs were created for the Stuttgart multi-body model.  When asked about her time in Brisbane Tanya said, “It was a great experience working with the BSRG team and I felt very welcome from the first day. I will always remember this great opportunity and I am so grateful for everything I learned during my time in beautiful sunny Brisbane.”

Alexis Arslan (October 2019 – February 2020)

Alexis Arslan, a French biomechanical engineering student, joined the BSRG team for his end of studies internship. He worked on various projects during his stay, all related to the biomechanical characterization of adolescent vertebral trabecular bone core samples extracted during scoliosis correction surgeries. Continuing the work of previous students, Laure Stickel and Jurgis Ruza, he used micro computed tomography (uCT) to analyze the trabecular network orientation and the bone volume fractions of the samples.  He also worked on replicating the Scanning Electron Microscopy (SEM – qBEI) protocol which was developed by the Ludwig Boltzmann Institute (Vienna) with the help of Dr. Stéphane Blouin in order to study the bone mineral density (calcium concentration) of the vertebral bone samples. Studying these different characteristics will give us a better understanding of the trabecular bone reaction under different types of load and could help surgeons develop new strategies to manage skeletally immature patients with scoliosis who are at risk of curve progression.  Alexis said: “I am very thankful for the opportunity to work with such passionate researchers. I’ve learnt a lot during my stay in Brisbane and genuinely enjoyed every moment I spent with my co-workers inside and outside of the office. Being naturally curious, working in research was a real pleasure and the working environment was one of the healthiest I have experienced to date. The memories and knowledge I acquired during my stay will always be a part of who I am now.  Thank you to all the BSRG members once again for welcoming me and making me feel part of their big family in such a short period of time. Cheers!”

2018/19 Somerville House Science Internship Program

BSRG are proud to continue their support for the Somerville Student Internship Program with our second cohort of student interns. As part of their CCHR internship, Dr Paige Little asked Sophie Morrison and Taylor Thorne to evaluate the accuracy of 3D surface scanning equipment used in the BSRG lab at the Centre for Children’s Health Research. The students were supported to learn what 3D surface scanning is and how to scan simple and more complex objects. They developed analytical methods for evaluating the mathematical error involved in scanning both physical objects and human participants and the results from their scanning accuracy project will assist the BSRG researchers in future research projects that utilise 3D surface scanning technology.  When Sophie and Taylor were asked about their internship involvement they said that, “‘Working with the BSRG team of researchers has been a truly enriching experience for both of us. During the internship program, we had the opportunity to develop new skills in 3D scanning, results analysis and the interpretation of our findings. The CCHR internship programme allowed us to experience a working environment in the ‘real world’ as well as inspire us both into working towards careers in the field of STEM“.

Marlon Arthur (2019-2021)

QUT Mechanical Engineering student, Marlon Arthur first started working with BSRG in 2018 when he was supervised by Dr Paige Little as part of a Work Integrated Learning project. He is currently working in collaboration with BSRG PhD Student, Laura Mezaros and the University of Stuttgart. The aim of the project is to integrate muscle elements and their respective forces from Stuttgart’s kinematic spinal model into BSRG’s Finite Element Analysis (FEA) model to ascertain the importance of different muscle groups and their overall impact on the movement of the spine.

Fraser Labrom (2019-ongoing)

UQ Medical Student, Fraser Labrom began working with BSRG in 2018 as a UQ undergraduate Biomedical Science student with his project “Bone Metabolism Biomarkers in Adolescent Idiopathic Scoliosis”. After graduating from Biomedical Science, Fraser commenced his Medical degree in 2019 and is currently working on 3D analysis of the asymmetries observed within the vertebral bodies and intervertebral discs in Adolescent Idiopathic Scoliosis patients during growth.  Fraser was awarded Best Poster at the UQ Science Undergraduate Research Conference in 2018 for this work. As well, Fraser had a poster of his current work at the 2019 Spine Society of Australia meeting at the Gold Coast. Fraser commented “Being able to research the development of adolescent idiopathic scoliosis, something that is still so largely unknown, has been an incredibly rewarding and engaging experience. I feel so lucky to be working with such an established and knowledgeable group.”

Cara Woolnough (June-July 2019)

Brisbane-born Cara Woolnough is currently studying Biomedical Engineering at the University of Utah, USA on a Sports Scholarship. Cara joined the BSRG in Brisbane for a two month internship to assist the team with a project utilising 3D surface scanning in patients with Adolescent Idiopathic Scoliosis under the care of the specialist Spinal Deformity Team at the Qld Children’s Hospital Spine Clinic. Cara’s project focused on processing and analysing the 3D scans of patients who had undergone scoliosis correction surgery by comparing the pre-operative and post-operative scans and specifically developing a characterisation method to objectively analyse the rotational correction of the thorax which had been achieved by surgery. Cara said that “having the opportunity to work with Dr Grant has really helped me understand how Research and Industry can work closely together within the field of biomedical engineering. I have found learning about adolescent idiopathic scoliosis extremely interesting. It was also eye-opening to see the clinical side of the work with the Queensland Children’s Hospital and how closely connected the QUT Biomechanics & Spine Research group is with the world-class spinal surgeons.  The image processing and data analysis required on the scoliosis 3D scans has developed my skills with various technologies and software. Working alongside Dr Grant and together with ‘Field Orthopaedics’ has helped me see where research meets industry, and the value of her extensive research experience in an Industry setting. I am very grateful for my internship opportunity with the BSRG in Brisbane and have learnt a lot.”

Sanne van Hoogstraten (May-July 2019)

Sanne Hoogstraten, a Medical Engineering Masters Student from Eindhoven University of Technology, visited the BSRG in Brisbane for a three month internship.  Sanne used a dataset of experimental high-resolution micro computed tomography (micro-CT) data of mice tibia that is available in the Pivonka lab at QUT for her analysis. The project aims to assess the effect of the anabolic drug Parathyroid Hormone (PTH) and mechanical loading on cortical bone adaptation in the mouse tibia. The mice were subjected to different anabolic drug treatments and observed over a 14 day period. The project will further develop a computational model of cortical bone adaptation to predict the evolution of the periosteal surface throughout the treatment period. The PTH drug dosing will be modeled using a pharmacokinetic (PK) model developed previously by Pivonka et al. Combining the PK model and a bone adaptation model delivers a mechanistic pharmacokinetics-pharmacodynamics (PK-PD) model. This model will be applied to simulate the anabolic cortical bone response over time.  Models that can accurately predict bone adaptation under different conditions are a powerful tool to determine the outcomes of treatments for osteoporosis and other bone diseases. Sanne reported to the BSRG that, “It was fantastic to work in this group for the past three months.  I met a big group of great researchers, felt very welcome right from the start, and learned a lot as well as enjoying living in Brisbane very much!”

Jurgis Ruza (Feb-July 2019)

Masters student, Jurgis Ruza joined the BSRG Team for a 6-month internship. Jurgis’ project assisted BSRG researchers with the analysis of bone quality from vertebral bone samples of adolescents with idiopathic scoliosis. Quantitative backscattered electron microscopic imaging (qBEI), was used to characterise the bone mineral density distribution of the bone samples. Nano-indentation assessed the stiffness of the bone matrix and Raman spectroscopy assessed bone matrix composition. These values were then compared with values from the literature for normal healthy bone.  “An amazing experience all around. Working in this group has been truly valuable to my personal and professional growth. I had the opportunity to explore the possibilities of the project on my own terms and at the same time I had constructive discussions with my colleagues and guidance from my supervisors about the general direction I should be taking. What is more, Brisbane has been a lovely city to spend half a year, with heaps of opportunities for numerous outdoor and indoor activities”, said Jurgis.

Laure Stickel (March-August 2019)

French student, Laure Stickel joined the BSRG for a 6-month internship. Laure’s project focussed on the assessment of the mechanobiological adaptation mechanisms that occur in the vertebral body bone of patients with Adolescent Idiopathic Scoliosis (AIS). Micro-CT imaging of bone samples taken from the apical levels of the scoliosis deformity during scoliosis correction surgery were used to analyse the trabecular architecture and orientation of the specimens with respect to their global orientation.  It is hoped that this work can go on to be used to determine whether the changed mechanical loading conditions in scoliosis lead to any changes found in the trabecular orientation and architecture of these vertebral samples. Furthermore, a comparison can then be made between the obtained microstructural parameters in AIS bone with bone parameters reported in the literature from healthy straight spines, including trabecular thickness and spacing. Laure said “Working with the BSRG team has been an extremely enriching experience, both on a professional and personal level. I had the opportunity to develop new skills in medical imaging, sample analysis, and lab work. Discovering the clinical side of the project by interacting with spinal surgeons was particularly stimulating. I also enjoyed very much discovering Brisbane and its beautiful surroundings with my friends and colleagues. Thanks a lot to the whole team for this amazing opportunity!”

Madge Martin (2018)

As part of a joint PhD scheme between Universite Paris-Est and QUT, Madge is completing her PhD thesis “Bone remodelling and mechanomics: bridging organ, tissue, and cell scales to understand bone structure and function”. Her work involves the development of a theoretical framework to describe bone remodelling from the cellular to the organ scale.  Working with Professor Pivonka on a mechanobiological approach to bone remodelling, they are focussing on a micro-mechanical model translating the loading on bone porous architecture into bone matrix strains sensed by bone cells, triggering bone remodelling biochemical signals. They will apply this framework to further the understanding of bone diseases and their treatment options. In addition, Madge is involved in a project with Dr Paige Little regarding the assessment of bone density and architecture in Adolescent Idiopathic Scoliosis patients.

Maxence Lavaill (April-August 2018)

Visiting French postgraduate engineering student Max will soon complete his project which investigates the effects of anabolic treatments on bone mineral density (BMD) in osteoporosis including drug treatment with Parathyroid Hormone (PTH) and physiological exercise. Max worked on developing a variety of computational models together with image analysis tools to quantify the anabolic effects of PTH.

Somerville House School (2016-2017)

The Centre for Children’s Health Research being in very close proximity to Somerville House School provided the impetus to build a mutually beneficial relationship between the two. The BSRG accepted two high school interns to work closely with our researchers during their Years 10 and 11. The students themselves were selected through an internal competitive process at the school for the opportunity to join the highly sought after programme. It is anticipated this unique and innovative mentoring programme will allow the students to experience active medical research that directly impacts the care of Queensland children and inspires them to enter the STEM (Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics) fields of study.

Claire Smallhorn (July 2017)

A year 10 high school student from The Illawarra Grammar School (TIGS), visited the BSRG researchers at the Centre for Children’s Health Research and the QUT Gardens Point Campus to experience a week in the life of the spine research team. Claire was asked how her week went with the BSRG. “Spending a week immersed in the research the BSRG undertakes and with the motivated, passionate and good-natured atmosphere the team creates, was an amazing experience that I will cherish and definitely won’t forget. The amount of effort, enthusiasm and drive the team has to do their work was so inspiring that I am now seriously considering biomedical engineering as my career path!”

Guusje Evers (May-July 2017)

Gussje did a 3 month internship with the BSRG at QUT supervised by Dr Paige Little. During this period I worked with the six axis mechanical testing robot, ‘George’ to characterize the biomechanical properties of an intervertebral disc. It was challenging but also very rewarding to work with ‘George’.  I definitely learned a lot during this project, and would love to come back to Brisbane some time. Best wishes to you all at the BSRG team, and thank you for everything!



Emma Tung (Feb-July 2017)

A third year undergraduate Honours Kinesiology student from the University of Waterloo in Canada, visited the BSRG researchers at the Centre for Children’s Health Research and the QUT Gardens Point campus to gain more experience in the research field of spine biomechanics. Emma conducted research on the discrepancy between the muscles fibre types in adolescent idiopathic scoliosis. “I had reached out to Dr Paige Little before coming to Australia, enquiring about any research project opportunities. She welcomed me, and introduced me to the rest of the BSRG team. Everyone was so warm, welcoming and collaborative which made my time in Brisbane really enjoyable. In addition, Maree Izatt introduced me to the Spine Deformity Team of surgeons, physiotherapists and nurses at Qld Children’s Hospital (QCH). I got to spend a few days participating in the Spine Outpatient clinics at QCH, as well as sitting in on a scoliosis correction surgery. The opportunities and experiences I had with the BSRG are irreplaceable and I cannot thank the research team enough for their support and guidance.”

First Year Medical Students, University of Queensland (Nov 2015-July 2016)

As part of their undergraduate medical studies, two first year medical students from the University of Queensland approached the Spine Research Group for their required clinical placement block. Rather than ‘observe’ in a purely clinical setting for the required four weeks, these driven students requested a more involved placement with a research component and both have achieved the rewards of their initiative and commitment.

Ms Caroline Yu was one of only six medical students whose abstract was selected by a panel of judges to be presented at the Australasian Student’s Surgical Conference in Brisbane. Her presentation won the ‘Best Student Research Presentation’ award and the resulting peer reviewed international journal paper was published in SPINE  2017; 42(12) pp 909-916. Authors: Yu, Grant, Izatt, Labrom, Askin, Adam, Little. Title: Change in lung volume following thoracoscopic anterior spinal fusion surgery: a three-dimensional CT investigation. Caroline said, “ I really enjoyed my time working with the researchers in the BSRG and also got to spend a very meaningful number of weeks shadowing top Paediatric Spinal Orthopaedic surgeons in the Spine Outpatients clinic at the hospital each Friday. It was a wonderful experience and the team helped me through every stage of the research process”.

Mr Luke Reynolds locked in his clinical placement with us early in his first year of Medicine at UQ and spent most of the next year finishing up his end of First Year summer placement research project, by preparing a journal paper with the BSRG team which has now been published in SCOLIOSIS AND SPINAL DISORDERS JOURNAL 2017; 12:22. Authors: Reynolds, Izatt, Huang, Labrom, Askin, Adam, Pearcy. Title: Is vertebral rotation maintained after thoracoscopic anterior scoliosis surgery? A low dose CT study.

Prof. Syn Schmitt (May-July 2016)

Prof. Schmitt from the Human Movement Simulation Laboratory at the University of Stuttgart, Germany, visited the Spine Research Group for two weeks followed by two of his research students who worked with us for 3 months to continue to advance the collaboration with A/Prof Paige Little to amalgamate our spine FE modeling capacity with their advanced muscular simulation software. Prof Schmitt also took some time out to meet our local Australian fauna.  Since then Prof. Schmitt has been awarded an Adjunct Professorship at the Queensland University of Technology to foster the close collaboration between Stuttgart and Brisbane.


Dr Bethany Keenan (PhD studies 2012-2015)

Bethany Keenan joined the BSRG team in November 2011 after having gained her Bachelor of Medical Engineering degree from Cardiff University in Wales, UK.  Her PhD studies at QUT in Brisbane were supported by the BSRG’s inaugural Florence Wilson PhD Scholarship which was awarded to Beth after a highly competitive round of international applications until her successful PhD completion in mid-2015.  Her PhD Thesis was entitled ‘Medical Imaging and Biomechanical Analysis of Scoliosis Progression in the Growing Adolescent Spine’.

During her PhD studies she spent a nine month period working with her Principal Supervisor, Professor Clayton Adam at the Laboratoire de Biomécanique, Arts et Métiers Paris Tech in France. Dr Keenan was prolific in her publication output from her doctoral years with four first author papers and a further four scientific publications co-authored with the BSRG team, as well as preparing a PhD Thesis of the very highest standard. Her work was presented to both Australian and international audiences on more than fifteen occasions in eight different countries which also demonstrates the high level of productivity during her time with the BSRG.  This culminated in 2016 when the Scoliosis and Spinal Disorders journal named two BSRG papers in a list of the ’10 most influential articles of 2015’ with one of these articles having Dr Keenan as first author (Keenan BE, Pettet GJ, Izatt MT, Askin GN, Labrom RD, Pearcy MJ, Adam CJ. Gravity-induced coronal plane joint moments in adolescent idiopathic scoliosis. Scol & Spinal Dis 2015, 10:35)

“I would like to acknowledge the late Prof Clayton Adam for introducing me to such an exciting field of research and for all his advice, inspiration and encouragement during my time in Brisbane and Paris. I will always remember this wonderful opportunity”, said Dr Keenan.

Visiting Undergraduate Medical Students (Feb-May 2015)

Anna Sundberg
Olivia Lofgren

Medical students from University of Linkoping, Stockholm, Anna Sundberg & Olivia Lofgren crossed the globe from Sweden to spend four months with the PSRG team at QUT in sunny Brisbane, supervised by A/Prof. Paige Little.

Olivia analysed the rotational correction (untwisting) of the thoracic spine achieved by thoracoscopic/keyhole surgery for adolescent idiopathic scoliosis (AIS), while Anna focused on the asymmetry of the chest before and after surgery, and whether this correlated with the correction achieved in the spinal column and rib cage.

“With the PSRG I had one of my best semesters during my entire medical education. I learned a lot about research, orthopaedics, scoliosis and also a lot about Australia”, said Olivia. “I particularly remember the paediatric spine deformity outpatient clinic at the Queensland Children’s Hospital, where we got to meet the patients and their families. Some of these amazing children had really rare orthopaedic and neurological conditions and others had idiopathic spinal deformities on which my research was based. The children made me realise what an interesting area orthopaedics is! I will also never forget how welcoming and generous the researchers of the PSRG team at QUT were! I have so many good memories from our Brisbane visit and I’m so happy that I got this opportunity!