Duke Researchers Make Science Fun for Juvenile Arthritis Kids

  • Cur E. Us, the Mouse

    No matter your age, research can be fun, entertaining, and educational.  Researchers at Duke University demonstrated that fact during the 2011 Juvenile Arthritis Conference in Arlington, VA, at the beginning of this month. 



    Groups of children aged 6-16 were hosted in the MOUSE lab where “Cur E. Us” (the research mouse) taught the kids about cartilage, joints, body movement, inflammation, and arthritis.  Each session began with a discussion of cartilage and how it is made of certain cells and the researchers discussed how they are learning to create cartilage in the lab.  A cool 3-D tour zoomed you right into the microscopic cells which make up cartilage. 

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    In preparation for the presentation and using equipment from the Coach K-Lab at Duke, which is dedicated to study of athletic injury, the research team had a little fun and computerized one of its members.  With sensors attached to various points on the body, one team member demonstrated walking, jumping, and dancing, while cameras recorded the moving images.  During the presentation, the outline of a body in lights could be seen projected from the computer screen.  Very cool.  The same team member even shared his dance moves in person with the class.


    The older groups of students were challenged with an additional task.  Images of joints showing inflammation and arthritis were compared to images of healthy joints.  The teens were then asked to determine if follow-up images showed signs of arthritis or not.  The groups were fairly accurate in their diagnoses.



    Making Cartilage in the Lab

    Farshid Guilak, Ph.D., heads the Orthopaedic Bioengineering Laboratory at Duke University.  http://www.duke.edu/~guilak/  One project which Guilak’s team is working on involves growing cartilage from stem cells.  An interesting aspect of this study is that the stem cells are derived from fat cells or bone marrow, not embryos or umbilical cord blood.   

    The stem cells are placed in an solution and fed specific proteins to begin the tissue engineering necessary to grow cartilage.  The growing stem cells are placed on a scaffolding structure which helps the cartilage to form into a desired shape.  Theoretically cartilage can be grown that is custom-made for an individual’s needs and joint destruction. 

    I asked Dr. Guilak about the possibility of tissue rejection as a result of using someone else’s stem cells, such as stem cells which have been banked for later use.  He informed me that stem cells lack the properties (such as blood type) which contribute to tissue rejection in other types of transplants.  Just another way that stem cells are truly a blank slate.  Very cool to know.



    Post-Traumatic Osteoarthritis

    I was honored to sit down and have lunch with the Duke research team.  One discussion we had moved into additional research they are conducting involving the prevention of osteoarthritis after injury.

    Did you know that more than 40% of people who suffer significant ligament or meniscus tears or similar joint injuries will develop osteoarthritis?  Wow!  Conversely, more than 12% of patients with osteoarthritis in their lower extremities (eg. knees) have a history of joint injury, say researchers in the Journal of Orthopaedic Research (June 2011).  One member of Dr. Guilak’s research team shared that they are testing the introduction of a specific TNF-blocker immediately after acute injury to see if it will lessen the risk of developing osteoarthritis later.  He shares that the research looks promising.

  • If you’d like to follow research coming out of Dr. Guilak’s Duke laboratory, check out PubMed.gov.  

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    Lisa Emrich is author of the blog Brass and Ivory: Life with MS and RA and founder of the Carnival of MS Bloggers.

Published On: July 27, 2011