Research Interests

I oversee research in the Soft Tissue Research Laboratory (STRLab) in the Multidisciplinary Research Building in the following areas:

Osteochondral Tissue Engineering:  Osteochondral tissue engineering is a promising approach to repair damaged or degraded cartilage.  Although native cartilage has limited capacity to integrate with engineered tissue, osteochondral tissue achieves fixation at the bone interface, via the healing and regenerative capabilities present in bone but lacking in cartilage.  We are developing a new method of simultaneously differentiating adipose-derived mesenchymal stem cells to the chondrogenic and osteogenic lineages in a single bipotent medium for the purpose of osteochondral tissue engineering.  Long-term prospects for this research include investigations of the molecular pathways that regulate chondro- and osteogenesis, and developing functional scaffold materials that exploit these pathways to control differentiation.

Damage Mechanics in the Annulus Fibrosus:  Back pain is a very common medical complaint that is often attributed to tears the annulus fibrosus.  While many studies have quantified the mechanical and failure properties of the annulus, little is known about the evolution of damage in the tissue microstructure, and studies that clarify the initiating events leading to annular rupture are lacking.  This study addresses these issues by integrating theoretical, experimental, and analytical techniques to study annular tissue damage due to physiologically-relevant fatigue loading.  An improved understanding of the events that lead to annular tears may be helpful in developing preventative measures or therapies that are effective at halting or reversing damage at an early stage.

Cartilage Wear:  Experimental implants are being developed that replace only the damaged cartilage instead of the entire joint.  However, these artificial implants may articulate against native cartilage tissue, potentially causing wear and degradation.  Therefore, understanding the cartilage wear process and establishing efficient evaluation techniques are critical for device design and testing.  We are developing a variety of biochemical, mechanical, and optical techniques to quantify cartilage wear and elucidate wear mechanisms. Studies to determine how age alters cartilage wear are also planned.

The Role of Cell/Scaffold Interactions in Mechanobiology:  The differentiation pathway of adult mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) is regulated in part by the mechanical environment of the cells.  The biomechanical stimuli experienced by MSCs seeded onto a supporting scaffold will depend on both the mechanical properties of the scaffold and the attachment of the MSCs to the scaffold itself.  The hypothesis under investigation in this project is that cellular attachment to the scaffold directs the response of MSCs to mechanical loading.  If this hypothesis can be corroborated, it opens up the possibility of developing mechano-sensitive scaffolds that control the differentiation pathway of MSCs for tissue engineering purposes.