One deformation that can occur is the formation of fluid-filled cavities in the spinal cord. Previous medical investigations have failed to find any chemical or biological process which is responsible for the formation of the cavities. Alternatively, the cavities could be caused by pressure changes in the cerebral-spinal fluid which surrounds the cord.
The scientist hope that a mathematical model will be able to demonstrate how the changes in the pressure of the cerebral-spinal fluid can cause the cavities to form and grow without the need for invasive medical investigations.
Dr Paul Harris, from the university's School of Computing, Engineering and Mathematics, is leading the project which is being funded by the Leverhulme Trust which makes awards for the support of research and education. It was started by Victorian businessman William Lever who founded Lever Brothers.
Scan of a deformed spine
"Since it is almost impossible to answer this question using experimental techniques, due to the difficulties with accurately measuring quantities inside the body of a patient with the condition and the long timescales of cavity formation, the alternative is to produce a mathematical model of the spinal cord, based on an understanding of the properties of the materials involved, and use this model to investigate possible mechanical processes which could cause the cavities to form and grow."
Dr Harris said: "One of the questions that researchers working in the general area of neuroscience seek to answer is how fluid-filled cavities in the spinal cord form and grow in size.
Dr Harris hopes that providing an accurate mathematical model could lead to improved treatments of spinal deformities.