Currently, ongoing studies in the department are focused on two key areas of musculoskeletal research: vertebral disc disease and osteoarthritis. These research topics reflect the existing funded areas of research by our basic science faculty as well as the enormous clinical strength of the departments’ physicians and surgeons. Together with graduate students, postdoctoral fellows, basic scientists and surgeons are working together generating new research directions, and through collaborations across departments and institutions developing new understandings of the pathogenesis of skeletal disease and initiating breakthrough therapies.
Noteworthy, a very large percentage of our population now experiences the crippling pain of osteoarthritis, and degenerative intervertebral disc disease. The incidence of low back pain, which is often linked to degenerative changes in the intervertebral disc, is extraordinary high. As many as 80% of adults will experience at least one episode of pain during their lifetime and 5% will experience chronic spinal disease. The annual total cost of back pain to the US health care industry is almost 200 billion dollars.
Although there are numerous surgical approaches for dealing with damaged or traumatized discs, the commonest strategies are aimed at providing symptomatic relief. None of the current therapies can completely restore the function of the degenerative intervertebral disc and thereby prevent further deterioration of the health of the compromised spine. Demographics clearly show that the number of individuals afflicted with these disorders will significantly increase in the near future. Current investigations are directed at understanding the basic biology of the disc and to explore new mechanism for repair using stem cells.
A similar litany of lost work days, decreased function and absenteeism can be made for osteoarthritis. Over 46 million people in the US suffer from osteoarthritis with an estimated annual cost of 10.3 billion dollars. By 2030, 67 million Americans will be suffering from the effects of this condition. Fortunately, there have been impressive developments in the treatment of advanced osteoarthritis, such as use of artificial joints to treat hip disease. Nevertheless, our understanding of joint disease is rudimentary and current therapies, aimed at reducing suffering, are limited. The challenge now facing departmental researchers is to elucidate the pathogeneses of these maladies and to use this new information to design rational treatments that serve to restore function to diseased cells and tissues. Accordingly, researchers in the department are exploring mechanism to eliminate infections associated with implants and exploring new approaches to regenerate lost tissues using state of the art physical techniques.