Professor Richard Aspden

Professor Richard Aspden
BA (Hons), PhD, DSc, CSci, FIPEM

Emeritus Professor

Professor Richard Aspden
Professor Richard Aspden

Contact Details

work +44 (0)1224 437445
The University of Aberdeen Arthritis and Musculoskeletal Medicine
Institute of Medical Sciences
School of Medicine, Medical Sciences and Nutrition
Aberdeen AB25 2ZD
(Room 5.15.1)
Web Links


Starting with a first class honours in Physics from the University of York I then moved across the Pennines to do a PhD in Medical Biophysics at the University of Manchester under Professor David W.L. Hukins. I developed methods using x-ray diffraction and polarised light to measure collagen fibril organization in connective tissues and applied these first to articular cartilage and subsequently used them on tissues such as ligaments, intervertebral disc, meniscus and uterine cervix. I was awarded a Wellcome Trust Travelling Fellowship to work with Professor Dick Heinegård in the Department of Physiological Chemistry at the University of Lund, Sweden. There I learnt some biology in order to study how biological and mechanical factors are inter-related. On returning to the UK I moved to Aberdeen and set up the Orthopaedic Research Laboratories. In 1992, I was awarded an MRC Senior Fellowship, and this was renewed in 1997. I was appointed to a personal chair as Professor in Orthopaedic Science in 2000.

Research results are published in over 170 peer-reviewed papers and I have been an investigator on grants awarded for research totalling over £25M from Research Councils, Charities and Industry.

Some significant findings

Quantifying the organisation of collagen within soft and hard connective tissues using x-ray and neutron diffraction and polarized light microscopy.

Quantified the hypomineralization and hyperplasia of bone in osteoarthritis

Hypothesised that osteoarthritis is not a cartilage disorder but may be a systemic disorder involving lipid metabolism and that hyperplasia of tissues with a mesenchymal origin is a characteristic feature.

We showed that chondrocytes in elderly human articular cartilage do not increase their biosynthetic activity when subjected to cyclic loading although they do increase their expression of mRNA for anabolic factors. This behaviour is not replicated by animal models.

Finite element modelling of the meniscus showed that compressive loading results in the development of strains in the tissue corresponding to the commonly observed pathological tears. The flatter the triangular cross-section the more likely a longitudinal tear hence the increased risk to the postero-medial meniscus.

Statistical shape modelling (SSM) provides a quantitative measure of joint shape and has been used to quantify joint shapes in spines, hips, knees, ankles and feet. We have shown these shapes area asociated with developmental and genetic factors and SSM can be used as an imaging biomarker for joint disorders.

Biomechanical models based on an arch and an inverted pendulum can explain how the curved flexible nature of the human spine gives it a mechanical advantage and enables controlled movement.

We each have an intrinsic shape to our lumbar spines, which is detectable throughout flexion and extension. This shape affects the way we lift weights from the floor: those with straight spines prefer to squat to lift while those with curvier spines prefer to stoop.


Research Interests

My recent publications appear through the University of Aberdeen system but if you want to see what I have published throughout my career then details may be found through ResearchGate

or Scopus

or Google Scholar



Dr Amanda Nelson (University of North Carolina). 

Statistical Shape Modelling (SSM) of the Johnstone County osteoarthritis cohort


Professor Jon Tobias (University of Bristol)

Dr Celia Gregson (University of Bristol)

Dr Emma Clark (University of Bristol)

SSM of images from the ALSPAC cohort, a High Bone Mass cohort and most recently the UK Biobank images with Manchester, Southampton and Cardiff.


Professor Diana Kuh (UCL) and the NSHD team

SSM of the DXA images of hips and spines from the National Survey of Health and Development


Professor Graeme Jones (University of Tasmania)

SSM of hips from the TASOAC cohort


Professor Marian Hannan (Harvard University)

US member of a consortium led by Jon Tobias in which we use SSM and perform a GWAS study of numerous osteoarthritis cohorts worldwide for genetic determinants of hip shape


Prof Tim Cootes (University of Manchester)

Working with us and Jon Tobias to develop a high-throughput version of SSM in order to analyse the hip, knee and spine images from 100,000 individuals in the UK Biobank


Professor David Deehan (University of Newcastle)

Measurement of bone properties in the acetabulum in regard to uncemented acetabular replacement


Dr Karen Hind (Durham University)

Spinal injuries in international Rugby players


Professor Alison McGregor, (Imperial College London)

Spinal shape related to disc degeneration


Dr Mandy Plumb (Federation University Australia)

FGF18 and mechanical regulation of articular cartilage


Dr Jude Meakin (University of Exeter)

Spinal biomechanics


Dr Rachel White (University of Central Lancashire)

Regulation of intracellular pH and the role of NHERF1 in cellular proliferation

Research Grants

Currently an investigator on a grant for £1.6M from the Wellcome Trust led by Jon Tobias in Bristol to analyze the UK Biobank DXA images of hips, knees and spines.