Theses Doctoral

Engineering spatiotemporal cues for directed cartilage formation

Wu, Josephine Y.

Joint disease is detrimental to basic quality of life. Articular cartilage is responsible for reducing friction and distributing loads in joints as they undergo large, repetitive load cycles each day, but damaged tissue has very limited intrinsic regenerative ability. Osteoarthritis (OA), the most common joint disease, affects over 500 million people worldwide, contributes more than $27 billion dollars in annual healthcare expenditures, and has increased in prevalence by nearly 50% since 1990 with our aging population. In spite of all this, OA remains a chronic degenerative condition lacking in effective treatment strategies. For cartilage repair in late-stage disease, synthetic joint replacements carry risk of altered loading and metal hypersensitivity, while clinically approved autografts or autologous chondrocyte implantation procedures suffer from lack of donor tissue and donor site morbidities. Prior to surgical intervention, OA management is focused on analgesia rather than preventing or slowing early-stage disease. Disease-modifying OA drugs are yet to successfully complete clinical trials, in part due to the widespread use of animal models for therapeutic discovery rather than high-fidelity human models. Alleviating the burden of cartilage damage will require improvements in both early-stage therapeutic interventions and late-stage repair. Tissue engineering has the potential to offer more biologically faithful cartilage derived with minimal invasiveness, but the resulting cartilage currently lacks the organization or maturity of native tissue. Thus, the central concept of my thesis work was to introduce biologically inspired spatiotemporal cues to guide engineered cartilage formation, establishing novel methods for cartilage tissue engineering that would provide (i) cartilage-bone grafts for regenerative implantation and (ii) advanced in vitro models for studying osteochondral disease. United by the central theme of cartilage, this dissertation spanned three complementary and interacting areas of tissue engineering: regenerative medicine in Aim 1, tools and technological development in Aim 2, and organs on a chip in Aim 3.

In Aim 1, we created patient-specific cartilage-bone constructs with native-like features at a clinical scale, using decellularized bone matrix, autologous adipose-derived stem/stromal cells, and dual-chamber perfusion bioreactors to recapitulate the anatomy and zonal organization of the temporomandibular ramus-condyle unit with its fibrocartilage. We validated key tissue engineering strategies for achieving in vivo cartilage regeneration, with the cartilage-bone grafts serving as templates for remodeling and regeneration, rather than providing direct replacements for the native tissue. To enable precise in vitro manipulation of TGF-β signaling, a key pathway in cartilage development, in Aim 2 we developed an optogenetic system in human induced pluripotent stem cells and used light-activated TGF-β signaling to direct differentiation into smooth muscle, tenogenic, and chondrogenic lineages. This optogenetic platform served as a versatile tool for selectively activating TGF-β signaling with precise spatiotemporal control. Using optogenetic recapitulation of physiological spatiotemporal gradients of TGF-β signaling in Aim 3, we formed stratified human cartilage integrated with subchondral bone substrate, towards in vitro engineering of native-like, zonally organized articular cartilage. Collectively, these studies established novel cartilage tissue engineering approaches which can be leveraged to alleviate the burden of joint disease.


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Biomedical Engineering
Thesis Advisors
Vunjak-Novakovic, Gordana
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
June 22, 2022