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Research: The extracellular matrix (ECM) is the major component of bone tissue and consists of proteins such as type I collagen and vitronectin. The adhesion of osteoblasts—the bone forming cells—to the extracellular bone matrix has been shown to be important to processes such as proliferation, differentiation, mineralization, and mechanotransduction. Consequently, my research concerns the signaling pathways that are activated in the osteoblast due to attachment to these matrix components. Previous research indicates that osteoblasts and osteoblast precursors respond to different ECM proteins in a unique manner. We believe that exposing osteoblast precursors to the appropriate ECM can drive these cells to increase their proliferative capacity. To that end, we are working on designing a three-dimensional scaffold that will maximize proliferative and anabolic responses of osteoblasts to the ECM.
In an aging population, the need for these kinds of artificial scaffolds to facilitate healing of osteoporotic and non-union fractures is great. Current therapies have many disadvantages including the risk of disease or death to the patient, as well as rejection of the implanted material. Understanding how osteoblasts respond to their extracellular environment and determining the conditions necessary for the proliferation of osteoblastic precursors in a three-dimensional scaffold will facilitate the development of novel and effective materials that will enhance bone formation and maintenance in vivo.
In the classroom: In the GK-12 program, I have been working with Florence Malinowski in the Biotechnology vocational classroom at St. Georges. This year, we have worked to introduce a number of standard laboratory techniques to the students, while also providing them with a basic working knowledge of the chemical and biological principles needed to succeed in the biotechnology field. Throughout the year, I have helped to design laboratory activities and lessons, as well as set up a tissue culture facility in the classroom. Some activities we have done in the lab this year include solution preparation, extraction of plant DNA, chromatography, transformation of E. coli, and plant tissue culture. Despite the great deal of behind the scenes work I have done in the classroom, I have most enjoyed my time spent working with the students in both the laboratory and classroom setting. Although I hope to have enhanced their experience in the classroom, the students have helped me to gain new perspectives on my own research through their insightful questions and thoughts. My participation in the GK-12 program has truly been an invaluable experience that has improved my teaching skills and has given me an appreciation of the importance of linking science education with scientific research.