Seeking to house to remedy osteoarthritis


In 1976, Alan Grodzinsky ’71, ScD ’74, was feeling just a little annoyed. 

He had spent two years instructing a primary course on semiconductor physics and circuits in MIT’s Division of Electrical Engineering and Pc Science, studying the fabric within the fast-moving subject as he went alongside. That didn’t go away him any time for analysis. Then a golden alternative arose.

With the assistance of the late Irving London, founding father of the Harvard-MIT Program in Well being Sciences and Know-how, Grodzinsky gained a sabbatical at Boston Kids’s Hospital underneath the mentorship of the late Mel Glimcher, chief of orthopedic surgical procedure and a pioneering researcher on the biology of human bones and collagen.

Glimcher wished to begin a analysis undertaking on cartilage, the powerful matrix of fibers that traces the joints, and on osteoarthritis, the persistent, painful illness that breaks that cartilage down.

It was an ideal match for the 29-year-old Grodzinsky, who had earned his ScD learning {the electrical} properties of collagen, one of many constituents of cartilage. By 12 months’s finish, he was on the trail he has adopted ever since: looking for efficient therapies for osteoarthritis, the main explanation for persistent ache and incapacity around the globe. It impacts greater than 30 million Individuals, and a whole lot of hundreds of thousands globally.

“It’s an enormous monetary burden and incapacity burden. And whereas it’s not deadly, it definitely contributes to lack of high quality of life,” says Joseph Buckwalter, an orthopedic surgeon and osteoarthritis knowledgeable based mostly in Iowa, who has identified Grodzinsky for many years. “The prices of whole joint replacements, primarily knees and hips, is considered one of our main well being expenditures.”

No plan for ache

The US Meals and Drug Administration has not permitted any disease-modifying drugs for osteoarthritis—medication that deal with the underlying situation fairly than simply the signs. Essentially the most victims can hope for, Grodzinsky says, are ache relievers like Motrin, occasional injections of steroids, and finally joint alternative surgical procedure. Greater than 1,000,000 knee and hip replacements are finished within the US every year, and the quantity is anticipated to soar because the inhabitants ages.

Whereas older persons are most vulnerable to osteoarthritis, Grodzinsky has centered a lot of his analysis on youthful folks, significantly feminine athletes, who typically develop the situation after knee accidents.

Tens of hundreds of younger girls endure accidents to the anterior cruciate ligaments of their knees every year. “Once I train my course at MIT associated to biomechanics,” Grodzinsky says, “I ask about ACL accidents, and simply as many arms go up in the present day as previously. I taught a Harvard Medical Faculty course lately, and of the 20 college students within the class, 4 girls had suffered ACL tears, and one was on her third surgical procedure.”

Docs can repair these tears, he says, however each women and men who are suffering joint accidents are nonetheless at excessive threat of growing osteoarthritis in subsequent years. And whereas knee replacements can counteract the consequences of osteoarthritis, docs are reluctant to carry out such surgical procedure on youthful folks as a result of it is going to most likely should be repeated after the primary synthetic joint wears out.

A knee implant can final years, says Buckwalter, however “I might have nightmares doing it in somebody underneath 40, as a result of the chances are nearly overwhelming that they’ll want one other one.”

Nanoparticle Rx

Researchers have recognized present medication that may alleviate the onset of osteoarthritis, however they’re hampered by the truth that cartilage doesn’t have a pure blood provide, Grodzinsky says. When docs inject a steroid within the knee joint to cut back irritation, the physique clears many of the remedy earlier than it might probably get into the cartilage.

To deal with this drawback, his lab has pioneered analysis involving nanoparticles, human cadaver knees, and even missions to the Worldwide Area Station.

knee research image
Six days after an arthritic knee was handled with nanoparticles containing insulin-like development issue 1 (blue), the particles have penetrated by means of the cartilage of the knee joint.


Beginning with that sabbatical greater than 4 many years in the past, Grodzinsky realized a significant reality about cartilage. Whereas the tissue fibers themselves present a number of the help for our joints, a lot of its power comes from its electrostatic properties. “It seems about half the compressive mechanical stiffness of our cartilage is because of electrostatic repulsive interactions between negatively charged sugar chains,” he says.

This negatively charged tissue matrix additionally gives a solution to ship medication instantly into the tissue: by loading them into positively charged nanoparticles. Grodzinsky’s crew has been capable of present in human cadaver knee cartilage that such particles can counteract the early irritation and injury brought on by accidents. 

The preliminary nanoparticle work was began a number of years in the past by Grodzinsky’s former doctoral scholar Ambika Bajpayee, MNG ’07, PhD ’15, now a professor at Northeastern College. Bajpayee then collaborated with Paula Hammond, head of MIT’s chemical engineering division, who had pioneered using nanoparticles to ship medication to cancerous tumors. 

Within the Grodzinsky lab, the drug-­containing nanoparticles are injected into animals’ joints, simply as they’d be in human sufferers, he says, and “as soon as they’re inside, in the event that they’re used on the proper focus, they’ll keep inside for a lot of weeks,” nestled within the fibrous matrix. 

The group has targeting delivering two drugs which can be already permitted for human use. 

One is the anti-inflammatory dexamethasone, which additionally has been used efficiently to deal with respiration issues in some hospitalized covid-19 sufferers. The opposite is insulin-like development issue 1 (IGF-1), a hormone that promotes development of bone and cartilage tissue and has been utilized in youngsters born smaller than regular.

The dexamethasone lessens the breakdown of cartilage after an damage, Grodzinsky says, whereas IGF-1 can promote tissue restore.

Animal research utilizing IGF-1 have been finished in a collaboration with Hammond, and Grodzinsky’s lab has prolonged this experimental therapy to human tissues as properly, counting on samples from lifeless folks. To this point, the lab has been capable of acquire items of knee bone, cartilage, and synovial joint capsule from 45 donors, says Garima Dwivedi, a postdoctoral researcher within the lab. 

Dwivedi and her colleagues put the samples in wells constructed into plastic plates and maintain them metabolically lively. Then they apply a mechanical impression that mimics what occurs in a knee damage. That releases inflammatory molecules generally known as cytokines and begins a course of just like what occurs in osteoarthritis.

Outer house

On this work, the researchers put the nanoparticles within the tradition medium that bathes the tissue samples—a method they may additionally use in future experiments on the house station, which has turn into a magnet for researchers learning ailments of getting old.

Scientists have identified for years that human tissues age extra rapidly in low Earth orbit than on Earth, although the explanations are considerably mysterious. One evaluation estimated that astronauts’ muscle tissues and bones atrophy 10 occasions quicker in microgravity. 

Determining how one can restore joint injury could also be essential for future long- time period house missions.

With funding from the NIH and NASA, Grodzinsky’s lab despatched samples of knee cartilage-bone plugs and synovium tissues to the ISS in 2019 and 2020. They hoped to find out whether or not osteoarthritis-like illness might be initiated “in a dish” to simulate what occurs in people after a knee damage—utilizing the microgravity surroundings to discover and get rid of the mechanical processes at work—and to strive treating it with dexamethasone and IGF-1. 

Preliminary outcomes have been encouraging, he says. On the latest journey to the ISS, the lab discovered that each medication decreased injury within the most of the cartilage samples. 

“Since most researchers today stress that there is not going to probably be a single magic bullet, we imagine the flexibility to check mixtures of medicine in vitro is a vital step ahead,” Grodzinsky says.

The work in microgravity may additionally pay dividends for future house missions, Dwivedi says. Astronauts, who train intensively in house to counteract the atrophy that muscle tissues and bones are inclined to endure in weightless situations, are 3 times extra prone to get impression accidents than folks on Earth, she says, so determining how one can restore joint injury could also be essential for future long-term house missions.

Compassionate mentorship

Grodzinsky at all times appeared destined to discover a house at MIT.

Rising up on Lengthy Island, the place he attended public colleges within the booming postwar suburb of East Meadow, he typically visited his older brother, Stephen Grodzinsky ’65, SM ’67, at Burton Home. He remembers pondering, “This seems to be nice to me.”

He went on to get his ScD underneath the late James Melcher, director of the varsity’s Laboratory for Electromagnetic and Digital Techniques. However quickly a recession hit, and the one positions he was supplied have been a postdoc in icy Saskatchewan and an assistant professorship in music and engineering in Brazil. His mentors—together with Ioannis Yannas, finest identified for inventing synthetic pores and skin—inspired him to stay round, providing him a instructing place in electrical engineering. He has been on the Institute ever since.

In 1995, MIT arrange the Middle for Biomedical Engineering to advance analysis in what was then a brand new subject. Three years later, Grodzinsky was named to his present publish as its director. At the moment, his school affiliation modified to the newly fashioned Division of Organic Engineering, with joint appointments in EECS and mechanical engineering.

Grodzinsky believes any analysis success he has achieved has been the direct results of the “super PhD college students and postdocs we have been capable of get at MIT.” They in flip have prospered underneath his compassionate mentorship.

“It has been a pleasure to work with him, primarily as a result of he offers you lots of independence in your personal concepts to develop,” says postdoc Dwivedi. “And regardless of who you’re and what stage of profession you’re in, he listens to you with utmost consideration and respect.”

Professor Gropdzinsky and wife Gail
Grodzinsky and his spouse, Gail, now a pediatric neuropsychologist at Boston Kids’s Hospital, met taking part in chamber music.


She additionally appreciates his private help. When her dad and mom in India contracted covid in April, he “gave me utterly free time to assist deal with them,” she says. 

Grodzinsky himself has managed to keep away from osteoarthritis, although, at age 74, he’s in a main threat class for the illness. 

Possibly, he muses, it’s as a result of his avocation as a musician has saved him limber. After years of piano classes on the Third Avenue Music Faculty Settlement in New York, he grew to become the principal violist of the MIT Symphony Orchestra as an undergraduate. He additionally performed in freelance string quartets after ending his ScD and met his spouse, Gail, taking part in chamber music.

After formally setting foot on campus as a scholar at age 18, he says with a smile, “in some way, I’ve by no means been capable of finding a solution to go away.”


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