Cartilage goes beyond the nose
Published: Sunday, October 6, 2013
Updated: Sunday, October 6, 2013 23:10
Cartilage in the body goes beyond just the ears and nose – in fact, it is the base for the entire human skeleton.
At the first STEM Lecture of the fall series, this past Friday, Dr. John B. Lees-Shepard discussed how cartilage develops in the body and the causes and possible solutions to Osteoarthritis as well as other cartilage-loss related conditions.
Lees-Shepard explained to those present at the lecture how “cartilage is a model for bones to build upon.” He described how our “entire skeleton is at one point cartilage” and then as we grow it expands and hardens to form bone. In adults, when all growth is complete, a thin sheet of cartilage remains at the end of bones to prevent rubbing and grinding in the joints. Unfortunately, in advanced osteoarthritis when there is little to no cartilage left between the bones, they begin to rub against each other, causing severe pain.
Lees-Shepard’s Ph.D research, which he performed at the UConn Farmington Health Center in Dr. Caroline Deeley’s lab, focused on how the Epidermal Growth Factor Receptor (EGFR) affects cartilage growth. In his first experiment Lees-Shepard tested if EGFR negatively regulates cartilage growth by inhibiting signaling of the growth-promoting hormone BMP. In his second experiment Lees-Shepard studied the effect of the loss of a certain sensor, Mig6, that will cause an increase in EGFR, signaling and thus promoting the degeneration of cartilage.
Using mice models Lees-Shepard was able to successfully prove both of his hypotheses. In short, he has demonstrated that EGFR stimulates the breakdown of cartilage. Due to the tightly packed nature of cartilage cells, its breakdown is essential to repair. In the future, it is possible that an injection for the joints could be developed that would stimulate EGFR to breakdown the precise amount of cartilage necessary for repair while still leaving enough for pain free movement. This medication would benefit approximately 20 percent of the adult population who suffer from osteoarthritis as well as many other people who have experienced traumatic injuries.
Lees-Shepard, now that he has completed his Ph.D, is looking to continue working in the field through either post-doctoral research or by working for a pharmaceutical company.