Therapeutic effects of pulsed electromagnetic field (PEMF) on inflammatory responses in degenerated intervertebral disc cells. - Xinyan Tang


  • The goal is to apply the fluorescent reporter system to investigate biological and pathological mechanisms associated with disc degeneration and thus potentially optimize therapies for low back pain.
    • Using a novel live imaging method----GFP-tagged MS2 fluorescence reporter, to visualize and quantity the dynamics of inflammatory cytokine gene expression in single living cells under the treatment of PEMF.
    • Signaling pathways such as NF-KB and MAKPs involved in PEMF treatment effects on inflammation associated disc degeneration
  • Translational research in animal model: Aim to investigate the therapeutic effects of PEMF treatment in rat tail disc degeneration model.
  • hMSC/nucleus pulposus co-culture system and functionalized fibrin gel based therapy for  intervertebral disc degeneration.
    • The goal is to establish an injectable fibrin gel 3D scaffold by using hMSC/nucleus pulposus co-culture model which is hoped to benefit disc regeneration including promote extracellular matrix production and reduce catabolic factor secretion. The data will help to develop a cell-based therapeutic treatment on disc diseases.

Cocultured cell micropellets with stem cells and disc cells (w/ Dr. Tamara Alliston) – Annie Ouyang

Nucleus pulposus cells (NPCs) and chondrocytes exhibit less hypertrophy and better response to inflammatory environments when co-cultured with mesenchymal cells (MSCs) in a macroscale pellet. The goals of this project are to: 1) form micropellets with MSCs/NPCs that will reduce nutrient diffusion limitations and improve injectability and 2) investigate the effects of cell type and cell configuration on synthetic activity and response to hypoxic and inflammatory environments. 

Effects of structural variations on avulsion strength at the disc-vertebra interface – Britta Berg-Johansen

Avulsion of the cartilage endplate from the vertebral bone may be a leading source of low back pain and is the failure mechanism for over 60% of intervertebral disc herniation injuries. The aims of this project are to (1) measure avulsion strength for human bone-disc-bone specimens using novel biomechanical pull-off tests, and (2) measure structural variations at the disc vertebra interface and determine whether avulsion strength is correlated with this measures. These new data will be useful for designing new diagnostic tools and treatments for cartilage avulsion injuries, and could ultimately lead to improved prognoses for many low back pain patients.

Effects of spaceflight on the bending properties of the spine (w/ NASA) – Britta Berg-Johansen


Astronauts have a quadrupled risk for intervertebral disc herniation, an injury that causes severe pain and often requires surgery. While bending motions are main contributors to herniation, the effects of spaceflight on the bending properties of the spine are unknown. For this study, we are measuring four-point mechanical bending properties, visualizing failure locations, and quantifying trabecular bone properties for mouse spinal segments before and after 30 days of spaceflight.

Pathobiology of vertebral bone marrow lesions (Modic changes) – Stefan Dudli

Modic changes are signal abnormalities of the vertebral bone marrow on MRI and are often found in patients with painful disc degeneration. The mechanisms causing Modic changes and why they are painful are largely unknown. In order to shed light on the pathobiology of Modic changes, molecular and cellular changes of intervertebral disc tissue and adjacent bone marrow aspirates are characterized. To address the etiological question, a rat model for Modic changes is being established.