Theses Doctoral

Strategies to Modulate the Joint Response to Pathological Mediators

Lee, Andy Jaehan

Post-traumatic osteoarthritis (PTOA) of the knee is a complication resulting from direct injury to the joint, such as anterior cruciate ligament and meniscus tears, and accounts for approximately 12% of all OA cases. The economic and clinical impact of PTOA is also greater than idiopathic OA, as patients are younger and often more active, requiring treatments for symptomatic OA over a greater fraction of their lifetime. A common strategy to manage pain and inflammation associated with PTOA is the intraarticular administration of corticosteroids. However, these injections are limited due to the requirement of high-doses imposed by synovial joint clearance rates and their resulting systemic side effects. In addition, currently used broad-spectrum corticosteroids are palliative and not curative, stemming from incomplete knowledge of specific mechanisms that drive cartilage degeneration and other joint pathologies. Thus, most patients with PTOA eventually undergo surgical procedures such as osteochondral graft transplantation for focal defects and in more severe cases, total knee arthroplasty.

As such, the studies presented in this dissertation (i) offer specific insights into mechanisms by which traumatic injury can drive joint degeneration and (ii) present novel strategies to modulate joint responses to pathological factors by leveraging sustained drug-delivery platforms. In Part I, mechanistic assessments of human cartilage and synovium responses to insults are conducted to identify novel pathways that may lead to impaired joint homeostasis.

First, a direct consequence of traumatic injury, hemarthrosis, is explored as a potential contributor to the development of PTOA specifically through contributions by red blood cells. We demonstrate for the first time the differential roles of erythrocytes in their intact and lysed states through measures of oxidative stress and changes to metabolomic profiles in the context of ferroptosis. Furthermore, we demonstrate the therapeutic potential of Ferrostatin-1, a lipophilic radical scavenger in inhibiting pathological changes to cartilage and its crosstalk with the neighboring synovium in an in vitro model of hemophilic arthropathy.

Second, a strategy to prevent an indirect consequence of traumatic injury, arthrofibrosis, is presented in an in vitro model of joint contraction. Fibrosis and the presence of hyperplastic synovium are implicated in the progression of OA through pathological shifts in tissue composition as well as secreted factors that promote cartilage degeneration and the maintenance of a pro-inflammatory joint environment. A type I transforming growth factor beta-1 receptor inhibitor, SB-431542, is encapsulated in polymeric microspheres for the prophylactic treatment of arthrofibrosis through sustained low-dose drug delivery to circumvent the challenges associated with resident joint clearance rates. Utilizing human-based in vitro models of cartilage and synovium pathology, we present novel mechanisms and therapeutic strategies to prevent pathological changes following traumatic joint injury that may contribute to the development of PTOA.

In Part II, the sustained delivery platform introduced in Part I is extended to the treatment of PTOA. Osteochondral graft transplantation is currently the clinical gold standard for large focal cartilage lesions. However, allograft procedures are limited due to the lack of available donor tissues and autografts are associated with complications due to donor-site morbidity. In both cases, grafts are subject to failure, potentially in part due to the continual presence of pro-inflammatory factors following surgical procedure. In this section, we present cellular agarose hydrogels embedded with dexamethasone-releasing microspheres that are integrated with a titanium base as a functional tissue-engineered alternative to native osteochondral allografts. These allogenic tissue-engineered grafts were assessed in an in vivo preclinical canine model in their ability to maintain clinical function and to modulate the inflammatory response over the course of 12 months. We successfully demonstrated the feasibility of using engineered grafts by comparing clinical measures of range of motion, function, lameness, and pain, as well as modified cartilage graft scores, against native osteochondral allograft controls. In addition, improvements in the histopathological scoring of neighboring synovial and meniscal tissues indicate the therapeutic capacity of dexamethasone released from within the joint to modulate the inflammatory response up to one-year post-implantation.

Taken together, the studies presented in this dissertation identify novel mechanisms behind pathological changes to the cartilage and synovium that may contribute to the development of PTOA following injury. Potential therapeutic targets, inhibitory compounds, and delivery strategies are also assessed using human-based in vitro models of disease and further validated in an in vivo canine model through a clinically relevant timeframe. Ultimately, we demonstrate for the first time, the use of dual-function tissue-engineered grafts in a weight-bearing region of the knee joint to circumvent limitations associated with the clinical gold standard for the treatment of large focal cartilage defects.


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Biomedical Engineering
Thesis Advisors
Hung, Clark T.
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
November 1, 2023