The goal of our research program is to optimize the use of mesenchymal stem cells for repair and regeneration of musculoskeletal tissues, with particular emphasis on the intervertebral disc. The program has several research themes that broadly cover: characterization of stem cell function; quantification of normal and degenerated tissue mechanical and cellular properties; development of surgical protocols for cell delivery; and performance assessment in chronic models of tissue healing and repair.
Our research also focuses on quantifying differentiation stage specific responses of mesenchymal stem cells to mechanical stimulation using novel bioreactors in vitro. These observations are being translated to clinical utility through the use of various model systems that span cell culture through large animals. In a parallel series of studies, our research group collaborates with UCSF orthopaedic surgeons to characterize the cellular and matrix features of normal and degenerated human tissues to define clinical endpoints for stem cell therapies. Particular emphasis is placed on the inflammatory phenotype of cells from back pain patients. We are also focused on developing novel imaging techniques to define patients that would benefit from these cell-based therapies as well as to track the clinical success prospectively in a non-invasive manner.