PITTSBURGH—A multidisciplinary research team led by Carnegie Mellon University is developing new nanostructural polymer-based treatments to eliminate pathological bone formation in soft tissue, a common occurrence following orthopedic surgeries and amputations.
“Our tactic is to develop a solution that will control the pathological growth of bone in muscle and tendons (called heterotopic ossification) that frequently occurs following bone trauma and orthopedic surgery,” said Jeffrey O. Hollinger, professor of biomedical engineering and biological sciences, and head of CMU’s Bone Tissue Engineering Center.
“When bone is severely injured and amputation of a limb is necessary, or as a consequence of major orthopedic procedures, unwanted new bone formation occurs in the soft tissues surrounding the operated bone and appears as pieces of gravel-like bone. Consequently, there is pain and discomfort at an amputation stump where a prosthesis is secured. We are developing a therapy that will eliminate heterotopic ossification,” he added.
Data suggests heterotopic ossification occurs in more than 60 percent of military personnel who incur bone injury resulting in limb amputation. Therefore, the CMU labs of J.C. Warner University Professor of Natural Sciences and Chemistry Professor Krzysztof Matyjaszewski are using a three-year, $2.93 million grant from the Department of Defense to work with researchers at the United States Military Academy at West Point, the University of Michigan and the Naval Medical Center in Portsmouth, Va., to produce a therapeutic solution to eliminate heterotopic ossification.
Hollinger, the principal investigator for the grant, said the patient-centric focus of the team’s research includes a nanostructural polymer composite developed by Matyjaszewski to deliver unique RNA identified in the Hollinger lab, into cells at the bone trauma site to prevent heterotopic ossification in the soft tissue.
“The problem of heterotopic ossification is more widespread than the military population,” Hollinger said. More than 90 percent of hip replacement operations in the civilian U.S. population also show signs of heterotopic ossification. Because the problem is so complex, CMU researchers report that it will take a team of clinicians and researchers to develop solutions.
“We see this collaborative research as a win for both military and civilian populations. And we see this particular research project as a great way to help us change our research paradigm at West Point,” said J. Kenneth Wickiser, director of the Center for Molecular Science in the Department of Chemistry & Life Science at the United State Military Academy. “Our cadets are gaining invaluable hands-on research experience as summer interns at CMU’s biomedical engineering labs. And we are becoming more competitive in our abilities at West Point to tackle more innovative research initiatives,” Wickiser said.
Ashley Phillips, a sophomore West Point cadet, praised the CMU internship program for its concise and rigorous approach to problem solving. “I want to be a doctor and this CMU research experience gives me an excellent platform for growth and a medium for sharing my work with other cadets,” said Phillips of Mukwonago, Wis.
CMU researchers report there is a patent pending on the therapy and a clinical trial schedule will be developed once the preventative platform is fully lab tested.
CMU’s Jeffrey Hollinger of the Bone Tissue Engineering Center overesees lab work of West Point cadet Ashley Phillips along with J. Kenneth Wickiser, director of the Center for Molecular Sciecne at West Point.
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