Ralph Marcucio, PhD


Our research focuses on development and regeneration of the skeleton. Bones have a remarkable regenerative capacity and heal without the formation or scar tissue. Our goal is to elucidate the mechanisms that allow stem cells to recreate bone after injury. To achieve this objective we study cellular interactions that regulate skeletal development. We use a combination of approaches to examine development of the upper jaw. In some studies, we use avian embryos to assess the role of specific tissues that regulate development of the jaw. Avian embryos are easily accessible and offer the ability to modulate gene expression in tissue- and time-specific fashion. We also take advantage of the plethora of genetic reagents that are available for studying development of mouse embryos. Specifically, we study the role of individual genes by analyzing the jaw skeleton in mice that have either gain- or loss-of-function mutations in specific genes. Additionally, we are combining the ability to create chimeric embryos in the avian system with the genetic attributes of the murine system to examine the role of genes in specific tissues during development of the jaw.

Complimentary research in my laboratory examines skeletal regeneration during bone healing. We are examining the effect that age and ischemia has on fracture healing, because clinically, both aging and ischemia greatly diminish the capacity for regeneration of the skeleton. Our goal is to develop novel cellular and molecular therapeutic regimens to overcome the deficits in fracture healing that are observed in elderly animals and after ischemic injury. We are currently focusing the role that inflammatory cells and tissue oxygen levels play during cell differentiation during fracture repair.