• Jan 14 2021

New Study to Provide 1st In-Depth Look at Hip Pain in Patients With Marfan Syndrome

Michael Samaan (left) and Mary Sheppard (center) prepare for the study in the UK Biodynamics Lab with graduate assistant Walter Menke (right).

LEXINGTON, Ky. (Jan. 14, 2021) — Researchers at the University of Kentucky have received a $100,000 grant from The Marfan Foundation to assess how patients with Marfan syndrome develop hip pain.

The study will be conducted by Mary Sheppard, an assistant professor of family medicine and surgery in the UK College of Medicine, and Michael Samaan, an assistant professor of biomechanics in the UK College of Education Department of Kinesiology and Health Promotion.

Marfan syndrome is a genetic condition that impacts the body’s connective tissue. It most frequently affects the heart, blood vessels, eyes and bones. Diagnostic features can include a dilated aorta; dislocated lens; long arms, legs and fingers; a curved spine; a chest that sinks in or sticks out; flat feet; and an abnormally shaped hip joint, among others.

The cardiovascular impacts of having Marfan syndrome can be significant, and have been the focus of the majority of prior research. The study at UK will be a first-look at the mechanisms involved in the onset of hip joint pain and cartilage degeneration in patients with Marfan syndrome.

Nearly half of patients with Marfan syndrome self-report hip joint pain yet it is highly unrecognized by clinicians.

“This combination of potentially weak hip joint musculature and abnormal joint shape can lead to high amounts of hip joint loading during walking, which may cause hip pain and cartilage breakdown,” Sheppard said.

The research team will take a closer look at how the muscle weakness associated with Marfan syndrome leads to problems with hip joint muscle function, muscle morphology and gait mechanics. The exact association of these factors with the onset of hip joint pain and cartilage degeneration is unknown and of particular interest to the researchers.

“A mechanistic assessment of the effects of Marfan syndrome on the muscles and hip is needed because, although patients with this syndrome have weak quadriceps and hamstring muscles, we do not know whether or not the muscles around the hip joint are affected by the syndrome. Our project will determine how hip joint muscle weakness, size, and amount of fat within the muscle affects how the hip joint moves during walking in patients with Marfan syndrome,” Samaan said.

Patients from Sheppard’s clinic who volunteer for the study will have an MRI taken and have their gait analyzed in the UK Biodynamics Laboratory. The strength, size and amount of fat within their hip abductors will be measured, as well as the corresponding effects on their hip joint movement patterns, hip joint pain and cartilage health.

“We will provide an understanding of how the hip joint functions during walking in patients with Marfan syndrome,” Samaan said. “Our hope is that this will allow clinicians to develop treatments that can improve hip muscle function, reduce hip joint pain and reduce the risk of developing hip osteoarthritis in people with Marfan syndrome.”

The researchers expect future studies will help create targeted muscle-based therapies to reduce hip pain in people with Marfan syndrome and related conditions.

Samaan, a KL2 Scholar, and Sheppard, a K Scholar funded by the COM Dean’s Career Development Program, met through in UK Center for Clinical and Translational Science (CCTS) K Club. These K programs provide research training and funding for junior faculty to foster careers in multidisciplinary clinical and translational science.  The K Club is an integral part of these training programs, providing a multidisciplinary collaborative environment for scholars to share their projects and workshop research plans and grant submissions.

“UK is uniquely positioned as an academic medical center to bridge research and healthcare, and the KL2 Program leverages that capacity to develop upcoming generations of clinical and translational scientists,” said Vicky King, PhD, director of Career Development at the CCTS. “The collaboration that Dr. Saaman and Dr. Sheppard began as a result of their appointments in KL2 Program, which epitomizes our goal of stimulating innovative team science that can directly improve the health of patients.”