Columbia University Medical Center

Tissue Regeneration for Orthopedic Repair

Helen LuTissue regeneration is yet another field at the forefront of personalized medicine. Helen H. Lu, PhD, professor of biomedical engineering, and her research team specialize in growing multiple tissues to build functional organ systems that assimilate with the body. Their main goal is to promote long-term healing and restore tissue functionality. The group, which collaborates with physicians at Columbia and elsewhere in New York, is currently working on three projects— repair of the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL), rotator cuff, and articular cartilage. They are also focused on two dental issues—periodontal repair and dental pulp regeneration.

“We’re developing new ways to help the body heal after soft-tissue injuries,” says Dr. Lu, who is director of Columbia’s Biomaterials and Interface Tissue Engineering Laboratory. “Our approach is novel because it focuses on the regeneration as well as functional integration of the soft tissue graft, post repair or reconstruction,” Once the grafts are in place inside the human body, they easily meld with connective tissues.

Among their many projects, Dr. Lu and her team, in collaboration with Scott Rodeo, MD, at New York’s Hospital for Special Surgery, developed a novel scaffolding method to help those with ACL injuries grow three distinct tissue types within a single tissue-engineered interference screw (a type of screw used for graft fixation in ACL reconstruction). The innovative interference screw, which holds the ACL graft in place, lacks the disadvantages of traditional metallic implants.

Dr. Lu is working with William Levine, MD, the Frank E. Stinchfield Professor of Orthopedic Surgery at CUMC, chair of clinical orthopedic surgery, and director of the Sports Medicine Department at Columbia, on the design of a scaffolding technique for rotator cuff injuries.

Now that Dr. Lu and her team have learned how to connect different tissues, they and other researchers may ultimately be able to regenerate an entire joint or even limb.

This was adapted from an article in the Fall/Winter 2014 issue of Columbia Engineering magazine. Read the full article here.