Research in the Chan Group is focused on the mechanical and biochemical factors that drive maintenance, degeneration, and repair in musculoskeletal tissues – all within the context of osteoarthritis and other debilitating orthopedic diseases.

 

We utilize multidisciplinary approaches in bioengineering and biochemistry as applied to cell, tissue, and animal models – combined with techniques in biomedical imaging and biomechanics.

Interested in joining the lab? See current openings here.

MRI for Soft Tissue Biomechanics

Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is a powerful noninvasive imaging modality that produces images with excellent soft tissue signal and tunable contrast. Beyond simply images of tissue morphology, MRI can be used to probe the mechanical behavior, material properties, and biochemical content of tissues and other biomaterials.

 

Our research group focuses on utilizing these techniques to detect early signs of tissue damage or disease. Among these techniques, we utilize displacement- and strain-sensitive MRI imaging techniques and image processing to measure tissue deformations under applied loading. In addition to the identification of areas of anomalous mechanical behavior, data from these types of experiments can also help inform high fidelity computational models of tissue biomechanics. These tools can also be used to assess the efficacy of tissue engineering or pharmaceutical strategies to regenerate tissues.

Murine Models of Joint Injury and Repair

Inherent to the study of life is its sheer complexity, which often requires that biological systems be studied as a whole to best approximate conditions of human health and disease. Therefore, carefully planned and humanely executed animal models remain necessary to expanding our understanding of everything from signaling pathways to social behaviors. Throughout the research process, we work carefully with veterinary staff of the BioResearch Core (BRC) and the Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee (IACUC) to ensure that we make all efforts to adhere to the 3 Rs of humane animal research: Replacement, Reduction, Refinement.

Of the various species used in science, the house mouse (Mus musculus) has been widely used for the ease of genetic manipulation while still possessing a complex mammalian physiology. The shorter life span of the mouse also allows scientists to observe biological processes over a compressed time frame. Our group uses wild-type (normal inbred) mice as well as genetic knockout mice (animals that have copies of an inactivated gene) to study the early response to injury in orthopedic tissues like cartilage. We also use primary cell populations from these mice to be able to examine signaling and metabolism at the cellular level.

Hyaluronan Synthesis and Mechanobiology

Although hyaluronan is a glycosaminoglycan that is present in almost every solid tissue of the body, its role in load-bearing musculoskeletal tissues is primarily understood as mechanical – both as a lubricant in the joint and a charged aggregate that confers compressive stiffness in cartilage. However, hyaluronan is integral in the wound-healing process and can play both pro- and anti-inflammatory roles. Our group sees the degenerative, post-injury response in the joint as an aberrant wound healing process and therefore seeks to uncover the role of hyaluronan, and particularly the enzymes that synthesize hyaluronan, in injured and inflamed orthopedic tissues.