Anatomy and Cell Biology: Research Activities

Research in the Department of Anatomy and Cellular Biology stresses the pathobiology of tissue repair and regeneration in connective tissue (especially bone and cartilage), nerve and the eye. Many of these studies are directed to developing modes of protection against injury, or finding ways that growth factors and cytokines can promote healing in experimental models. Biomedical projects, closely allied to problems encountered in the clinical setting, are enriched by collaborative work with the Departments of Orthopedic Surgery, Biochemistry and Ophthalmology and the Section of Rheumatology. Students are encouraged to perform research in cross-disciplinary areas to take advantage of opportunities in the medical environment at Rush to develop basic research problems with a disease orientation. In addition to the biomedical research detailed below, faculty have interests in the development of new educational constructs that use computers to facilitate instruction and applied learning through case study work. Faculty laboratories are located in the Armour Academic Center and in the Cohn Research Building. These laboratories support a variety of projects ranging in scope from cell and tissue culture work using molecular probes and biochemical methods to experimental surgery and studies on biomechanics and gait. There is ready accessibility to scanning and transmission electron microscopy, a confocal microscope, mechanical testing equipment, and a bioinstrumentation laboratory as well as opportunities in specialty laboratories throughout the Medical Center. Most faculty members collaborate not only with other researchers at Rush, but with investigators elsewhere in the United States and abroad.

As a small department, a premium is placed on close relationships between students and their faculty mentors for guidance in development of new projects. The department normally hosts post-doctoral MD or PhD investigators who are committed to related lines of investigation and who are valuable resources for students. Highlights of faculty research interests in the department include:

Bone Biology and Orthopedics
Methods of enhancing bone regeneration for improving fixation of orthopedic implants (e.g. for joint replacement) are being investigated in experimental models and in patients. These studies feature mechanisms by which bone adapts to altered mechanical stresses and to the presence of foreign materials in these devices. The role of growth factors and cytokines is being studied in these models. (Sumner, Leven, Virdi, Sena)

Bone Biology and the Bone Marrow Stroma
Mesenchymal stem cells in the bone marrow stroma can give rise to a number of cell lineages, including osteogenic, chondrogenic, myogenic and adipogenic. Isolation and characterization of the early progenitors has a great potential for their use in clinical situations of tissue repair and regeneration. Our research interests focus on molecular studies using gene-expression profiling and the role of these cells as vehicles for delivering growth factors to the site of repair. (Virdi, Leven, Sena)

Joint pathophysiology
The pathophysiologic processes that produce damage to joints and articular cartilage are being examined in experimental models. Possible approaches to protecting cartilage from damage and inducing cartilage repair are being studied as a means to restore articular surfaces damaged by trauma or osteoarthritis. The role of bone in the development and progression of osteoarthritis is controversial. Several of our recent studies have suggested that bone may play a critical role. (Williams, Sumner,Thorp)

Cartilage Biology and Bone Growth
The long-term goals of this research area is to understand the molecular mechanisms that govern chondrocyte maturation (hypertrophy) during skeletal development; and to identify putative therapeutic targets that regulate chondrocyte maturation and are therefore involved in the pathogenesis of related skeletal dysplasias and/or osteoarthritis. Current projects are focused on identification of transcriptional determinants that mediate tissue-specific mouse Col10a1 expression in hypertrophic chondrocytes in vivo and characterizing the role of Runx2, AP-1 (Activator Protein-1) and other putative transcription factors in late endochondral bone formation. (Zheng)

Nerve and Spinal Cord Regeneration
Experimental models of nerve injury and methods for assessment of recovery are being used to evaluate treatments that can promote nerve regeneration. These models are directed to clinical problems of urinary incontinence and mechanical forms of nerve injury such as compression and stretching. (Kerns)

Ocular Biology

Lens
The structural basis of lens opacification (cataract), lens structure/function relationships as a consequence of aging, cataract formation and ocular/systemic diseases, and fiber cell elongation /migration in normal lens and models of cataract are being investigated. (Al-Ghoul)

Pathology of the Optic Nerve
Studies are being conducted collaboratively with Washington University in St. Louis and the University of California, San Diego on optic nerve tumors. These studies involve use of advanced imaging to study the evolution of optic nerve pathology associated with the development of the tumors. (Hughes)