Mentor Name:
Jill Shea

Mentor Position:
Research Assistant Professor




Project Description:

**This project is a part of the Summer Program for Undergraduate Research (SPUR), which provides undergraduate students with an intensive 10-week research experience under the mentorship of a University of Utah faculty member. SPUR 2021 begins on May 26 and ends on August 5. If you are interested in this project, please review all program information on the SPUR site. If you wish to apply to this project, you must apply using the SPUR 2021 application.**

Bone loss due to trauma or disease is an increasingly serious health problem within the military and civilian populations. Bone grafts are utilized in these situations to aid bone repair and regeneration. Material and performance are considered as two main problems in the development of customizable bone scaffolding. An ideal bone substitute material should have osteogenic properties and the capability to fill and integrate large bone defects with a variety of shapes and sizes. The goal of this project is to develop a scaffold that can be used to repair bone defects or injuries. The device will consist of a 3-D bone scaffold and adipose derived stem cells. The overall aims are:

  1. design device
  2. evaluate stem cell differentiation in vitro, and
  3. evaluate in vivo efficacy in a model system.

This multi-pronged approach is hypothesized to increase bone growth following an injury and improve patient outcomes.

Opportunity Type:

This is a paid research position

Student Role:

Over the course of a summer the student can plan on assisting with device design, manufacturing, and testing. They will become familiar with all aspects of the project. For the scaffold portion the student will learn how to manufacture the scaffold and how changing components of the scaffold alter its structure and mechanical properties. The student will also learn how the bone scaffold physical properties impact the differentiation of stem cells into bone forming cells using cell culture, viability assays, RT-PCR, and imaging. The final and main component of the project the student will work on is to test the how the device works in a rat bone injury model providing opportunities to learn surgical procedures, imaging, and histology. We will compare bone growth between groups that receive no implant, implant, and implant with stem cells. At the same time the student is learning laboratory procedures we will also work on experimental design, dissemination of data (poster/presentations), and literature reviews. Remote Contingency Plan: If by chance the student is not able to come to the laboratory and must work remotely we have several aspects of research on the same project available. The student will attend weekly laboratory meetings with the entire group and one-on-one via zoom. In terms of research we have two main contributions that can be achieved remotely. 1) CT image analysis: One component of the project consists of taking 3-D images of a bone injury, rendering a model of the injury, and then 3-D printing a bone scaffold for the specific injury. We will also have them analyze serial CT images of bone injuries of in a rat animal model and determine how bone mineral density changes of time both within and between groups. 2) Histological analysis of bone tissue can be done remotely as all histology slides are digitally scanned. Our in vivo study requires the analysis of bone remodeling and how quickly new bone is being laid down. The student will learn common bone histology analysis methods, analyze the data, and then present data to the group.

Student Benefits:

I think that working in a laboratory over the summer has several areas that are beneficial for student development. First, they will be given the opportunity to learn practical laboratory procedures. The SPUR program allows a student to focus specifically on one project over an extended period of time. Thus, they are able to accomplish more since they can spend 35-40 hours a week learning how to design experiments, preform experiments, present the data to others through presentations and writing. Being able to systemically evaluate a problem, come up with potential solutions, and then testing a hypothesis are skills that will be beneficial to a student no matter what career they end up pursuing. I believe that the problem solving skills a student learns while doing research are applicable in both science and non-science classes and jobs and thus focusing on the whole process of conducting research is an important area of focus within our laboratory.

Project Duration:

35-40 hours per week on research and program-related activities, begins May 26, 2021, and ends August 5, 2021

Minimum Requirements:

Admission to the program is competitive. Applicants must meet all of the following criteria: 1) be a matriculated, degree-seeking undergraduate student in the Fall 2021 semester (beginning or continuing college career in Fall 2021 and not graduating before December 2021; concurrent enrollment while in high school does not meet this eligibility requirement). Applicants do not need to be a University of Utah student. 2) eligible to work in the United States: If you are a University of Utah Dreamer (with or without DACA), you are eligible to participate. If you are a Dreamer from a different institution: If you have DACA, you are eligible to participate. If you do not have DACA, you are able to participate and gain research experience, but might not be able to be compensated. For more information, please contact Megan Shannahan at megan.shannahan@utah.edu or 801-581-2478. If you are an international student or scholar, you must either a) be a degree-seeking undergraduate student at an American institution of higher education and verify with your institution’s international center that your visa allows you to participate in this program, OR b) possess documentation that establishes your eligibility to work in the United States (if you hold US citizenship, it is likely you have these documents). 3) able to commit to approximately 35-40 hours per week of employment at the University of Utah for the entire duration of the program (May 26-August 5, 2021). 4) at least 18 years old by May 24, 2021 (required if you wish to use on-campus housing; preferred if you will not be using on-campus housing). Please note that no previous college coursework or previous research experience is required.