Projects

1. Bone Adaptation in Healthy Young Women:

Healthy bone adapts to best resist its habitual mechanical loading environment. When the applied daily mechanical stimulus drops below some minimum threshold, bone loss occurs. Similarly, when the stimulus exceeds some threshold, bone will adapt to become stronger through a combination of increased bone mass and changes to bone geometry that are associated with increased mechanical strength. Our long term goal is to understand how the bone structure and strength in humans are improved in response to physical stimuli. This knowledge is essential for optimizing exercise interventions to prevent fractures by improving bone health. Our research uses experimental data, image analysis, and subject-specific computational models to accurately quantify:

  • the mechanical stimulus applied to bone during specific and functional activities
  • three-dimensional changes to bone mass, density, and shape that occur over time
  • the mechanical consequences of bone adaptation

Our current NIH-funded investigation (R01 AR063691) focuses on:

  • Defining a quantitative input/output relationship between mechanical loading environment and bone adaptation in a healthy skeletal system using a human in vivo distal radius loading model
  • Exploring the individual effects of strain magnitude and strain rate on bone adaptation
  • Understanding how factors such as physical activity and diet influence bone adaptation

We are recruiting healthy women age 25-40 who live in the Worcester, MA region to participate in this research! If you are interested in learning more, please email MBL@wpi.edu

2. Changes to Running Style and Bone Structure in First-Time Marathoners

First-time marathon trainees typically ramp up their “long run” mileage over a period of 4-6 months. This collaborative project with Jessica Ventura, PhD, at Gordon College, will quantify changes to the distal tibia bone structure over the training period, and will link these changes to forces being applied to the bone during running. If you live in Massachusetts and are planning to run your first marathon in the next 12 months, please email MBL@wpi.edu for more information about participating in this research study!

3. Bone Health in Individuals with Spinal Cord Injury:

Spinal cord injury (SCI) causes paralysis and as a result, the mechanical stimulation to the skeleton normally provided by muscle activity and weight bearing is severely attenuated. Bone loss is a prominent feature of the immediate post-injury period, however fracture rate does not increase significantly until 5-10 years post-injury. These features make individuals with SCI a model population in which bone adaptive response due to lack of mechanical stimulus may be investigated. Additionally, because the SCI population is at high risk for fractures (similar to that of osteoporotic women), individuals could benefit from interventions that reduce loss of bone mass and strength. Anti-resorptive therapy, a key intervention for osteoporosis, cannot fully ameliorate this problem. Novel therapies and a more complete understanding of the structural changes that occur within the bone of SCI patients would benefit this population.

Ongoing and recent projects related to bone health in SCI include:

  • Skeletal and Clinical Effects of Exoskeleton-Assisted Gait on individuals with chronic spinal cord injury. This Department of Defense funded project is a collaborative effort with Paolo Bonato, PhD, and Leslie Morse, DO, at Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital in Boston.  Doctoral student Ying Fang and research engineer Nate Smith are assisting with this project.
  • Effects of Ekso-Assisted Gait Training on Bone Health and Quality of Life: A Randomized Controlled Trial.  This Department of Defense funded clinical trial is a collaborative effort with Leslie Morse, DO, at Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital in Boston.  It is registered at ClinicalTrials.gov NCT02533713.
  • (Recently completed) clinical trial in collaboration with Thomas J. Schnizter, MD, PhD, at Northwestern University and W. Brent Edwards, PhD at the University of Calgary to test the effect of Teriparatide, vibration, and the combination, on bone mass and bone architecture in chronic spinal cord injury (funded by the Department of Defense).

4. Advanced Imaging to Quantify Joint Deformity in Inflammatory Arthritis

Rheumatoid and Psoriatic Arthritis are two examples of inflammatory arthritis that cause progressive joint degeneration and deformity, especially in the hands and fingers.  In this project, we use high resolution CT imaging (HR-pQCT) to develop new methods of quantifying bone erosion and osteophyte formation in these patient populations.  The long-term goal is to develop objective and sensitive methods of tracking disease progression, and to provide more sensitive measures to evaluate treatment success.  This project is funded by a Collaborative Seed Grant between WPI and UMass, and is being completed in collaboration with Ellen Gravallese, MD, and Master’s student Travis Henchie.

5. Inferring Physical Activity Patterns in Early Humans Based on Bone Morphology

Because bone remodels in response to the specific patterns of strain it experiences, it is likely that endurance running, including differences in footstrike pattern, leaves a reliable signature in human bones, presenting the possibility for inferring locomotive behavior from hominin fossils. This is a collaborative project with Brigitte Holt, PhD, Joseph Hamill, PhD, and graduate student Andrew Best.