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George Plopper, assistant professor of biology, has been awarded a four-year, $2.6 million grant from the National Institutes of Health to continue research into the development of bone spackle, an engineered tissue that may one day be used to help bone injuries heal faster and stronger.
Ploppers work may lead to breakthroughs in the treatment of bone injuries and breaks, hip and knee replacements, and arthritis.
His research team work with adult human mesenchymal stem cells (hMSC) that have the specialized potential to become one of three forms of connective tissue bone, cartilage, or fat. These adult stem cells are extracted from banked bone marrow samples and then grown in the Rensselaer biology lab.
Kristin Bennett, associate professor of mathematical sciences at Rensselaer, is providing the predictive analysis equations that ultimately will sort out the set of conditions that will cause the hMSC to differentiate into bone cells. Also on the team is consultant Deepak Vashishth, assistant professor of biomedical engineering at Rensselaer, and Adele Boskey, professor of biochemical and cellular and molecular biology and director of research at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York.
Chemicals are often used in culture dishes to artificially stimulate hMSC to differentiate into bone. In the body, however, these chemicals can cause problems, including liver toxicity, immune system disorders, and infection.
Ploppers goal is to develop bone reliably from stem cells without the use of chemicals. The researchers have selected a specific protein, called focal adhesion kinase (FAK), a decision-making protein that may signal stem cells to become bone at an early stage of differentiation.
Someday, these engineered bone cells could be directly injected into the site of a bone injury. Or, in the form of a paste, the cells could serve as a bone spackle spread onto the ends of fractured bones, or used to fill in a crack.
|Rensselaer Magazine: Winter 2003|
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