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.

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.

Student Learning Outcomes & 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.

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.

Jill Shea
Research Assistant Professor

School of Medicine

My overall goal of mentoring students within my lab is to teach them how to successfully design, conduct, and disseminate a research study. I don’t want them to just learn laboratory techniques, although that is important, I want them to understand the experimental question and its importance and to be able to describe why they are doing a specific project or technique. My main method of transferring this information is by the “watch one, do one, teach one” method. When a student first comes to the lab they are typically assigned to shadow another member of the research team. Through this method they learn common laboratory techniques. Concomitant with shadowing I also encourage the students to attend our weekly laboratory meeting so they can keep updated on different aspects of research in the laboratory and attend a weekly journal club. The lab meeting and journal club give the students opportunities to learn how to read the primary literature, as well as how other students are progressing in their research. Once a student becomes familiar with the laboratory methods and projects the next phase is to have them start working on their own, so they gain first hand experience conducting research and presenting to the group. The last phase is for them to become the mentor to another student. I find that a lot of time students learn as much teaching other students as they do conducting studies on their own. In order to teach they have to understand not only how to do a specific technique but why they are doing it.