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Orthopaedic Biology Research Laboratory

The Department of Orthopaedic Surgery at Carolinas Medical Center is a nationally recognized program including clinical care, education and research. CMC’s Orthopaedic Surgery program has been rated among the Top 50 such programs in the country by U.S. News & World Report in its annual survey. Under the direction of Edward N. Hanley, MD, chairman, a full range of orthopedic services are provided, including his special interest of spinal diseases and surgery. The educational program provides a fully accredited, five-year residency training program. The department sponsors a wide range of research into diseases of the bones and connective tissues. In biological and engineering laboratories, as well as in clinical settings, researchers are conducting a wide range of programs to improve our understanding of disease processes, and to develop and test therapeutic interventions.

The Orthopaedic Biology Research Laboratory offers Orthopaedic Surgery Residents the opportunity to participate in clinically focused basic science research in disc degeneration, osteoarthritis and bone fracture healing and bone physiology. Current projects investigate disc degeneration, cell senescence in the aging and degenerating disc, crystal formation in osteoarthritis, changes in the growth plate following fracture, disc degeneration and low back pain, and direction of adult mesenchymal stem cells to a disc-like phenotype. Helen E. Gruber, PhD (Director), Yubo Sun, PhD (Senior Scientist), Alex Kiraly, PhD (Post-doctoral Fellow), and Edward N. Hanley, Jr., MD (Chair of the Department of Orthopaedic Surgery) direct externally and internally funded research efforts in this laboratory.

Mission Statement: To discover and disseminate scientific information supporting the translational link between orthopaedic research and patient care.

Osteoarthritis Research

Osteoarthritis research is being carried out by Yubo Sun, PhD, Alex Kiraly, PhD and David Mauerhan, MD; Drs. Hanley and Gruber also participate in this work. Research projects focus on cellular interactions in osteoarthritis in the knee, and therapeutic interventions based on cellular functions and biomechanical forces that are being developed.

The Brooks Center for Back Pain Research

The Brooks Center for Back Pain Research is in the forefront of disc cell tissue culture, molecular, and histopathologic studies of the human intervertebral disc. Established in 2007 by the generosity of W. Lester Brooks, Jr., MD, donations for this research endowment now total $2,000,000. Edward N. Hanley, MD, and Helen E. Gruber, PhD, direct this Center; Drs. Hanley and Gruber have authored over 45 peer-reviewed major scientific publications on disc degeneration since 1997; Dr. Hanley is an internationally recognized leader in spine surgery and Dr. Gruber a recognized cell biologist in the study of bone, cartilage and disc tissue. Our laboratory is a pioneer in developing techniques to grow human disc cells in tissue culture, and in the development of tissue engineering methodologies to test disc cell behavior and response to biologics.

Orthopaedic Sub-Specialty Histology Lab

The Orthopaedic Sub-specialty Histology Lab is staffed by a certified histology technician who is the lab supervisor (Jane Ingram, B.S.), and by research tech II (Michael Cox, B.S.). The lab is equipped for histologic study of intervertebral disc, iliac crest bone biopsy specimens, and other bone, cartilage, and fracture callus specimens. The lab carries out specialized glycol and methyl methacrylate and paraffin procedures for undecalcified and decalcified tissues. Equipment includes several microtomes and specialized automatic large units for sectioning large bone specimens embedded in methyl methacrylate, a low speed diamond saw, a diamond wire saw, a dual viewing microscope with UV fluorescence, polarization and a camera, other routine microscopes and dual viewing microscopes, and a microscope interfaced with a digital camera. Computer-based bone histomorphometry is carried out using specialized software interfaced with microscope cameras and imaging software.

Laboratory Members

Helen E. Gruber, PhD, Director
Yubo Sun, PhD, Senior Scientist
Alex Kiraly, PhD, Post-doctoral Fellow
Brenda Davis, Staff Assistant
Jane Ingram, BS, Lab Supervisor
Gretchen Hoelscher, MS, Senior Research Analyst
Michael Cox, BS, Research Tech II
Synthia Bethea, BS, Research Tech III
Tish Bullock, BS, Research Tech II

Contact Information: Helen E. Gruber, PhD

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