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Quickening the process to healing bone

MD/PhD student’s tissue engineering research recognized
by Society For Biomaterials

By Shawn Hutchins 

MD/PhD student Paschalia “Lina” Mountziaris with Rice Professor Antonios Mikos  
Paschalia “Lina” Mountziaris has been selected to receive the Society For Biomaterials’ Student Award for Outstanding Research in the PhD category for her investigations into the use of biodegradable polymeric scaffolds and the controlled release of inflammatory mediators for tissue engineering. 

Mountziaris, an MD/PhD student in the Rice University-Baylor College of Medicine Medical Scientist Training Program (MSTP), will receive the award at the World Biomaterials Congress in Chengdu, China in June 2012.

Results of the award-winning research will also be published in the Journal of Biomedical Materials Research Part A in a paper titled, "The Interplay of Bone-Like Extracellular Matrix and TNF-α Signaling on In Vitro Osteogenic Differentiation of Mesenchymal Stem Cells," that was co-authored by Mountziaris, Rice bioengineering undergraduate student Stephanie T. Tzouanas, and Antonios G. Mikos.

“A wide variety of factors slow the bone regeneration process, particularly for patients with impaired wound healing due to disease and advanced age,” said the recent graduate of Professor Mikos’ Research Group at Rice University. “We have been studying new strategies to enhance bone regeneration that would significantly improve the quality of life of these patients.” 

In the study, Mountziaris specifically examined the interplay of bone-like extracellular matrix (ECM) and varying doses of a particular type of inflammatory cytokine – tumor necrosis factor-alpha, or TNF-α, which is secreted by white blood cells as a first response to bone injury. 

In the body, short-term delivery of TNF-α is necessary for bone regeneration, but long-term delivery can damage bone. The research found that prolonged exposure to TNF-α has damaging effects as it reduces mineralized matrix deposition by mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) that are growing on ECM-coated scaffolds. MSCs are the precursors to bone-forming cells and, like TNF-α, are present at the site of bone injury.   

“Lina’s recent work underscores the potential of engineered biomaterials constructs to serve as clinically realistic models in the investigation of the impact of a variety of inflammatory signaling molecules on the regeneration of a range of tissues, including bone,” said Mikos, who is the Louis Calder Professor of Bioengineering, Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering; director Center for Excellence in Tissue Engineering; and director of the J.W. Cox Laboratory for Biomedical Engineering. 

Mountziaris says this knowledge will facilitate the design of not only new bone tissue engineering strategies that modulate inflammation, but can also be applied to investigate the impact and potential benefit of a variety of inflammatory mediators on healing and regeneration in a wide range of tissues. 

Mountziaris is also a recipient of a National Institutes of Health Nanobiology graduate fellowship, a W.M. Keck Center for Interdisciplinary Bioscience Training Grant (2008-2010), a Jack F. Pollard Endowed Fellowship in Engineering from Rice University (2008), a Scholarship Award for Academic Achievement from the Hellenic Professional Society of Texas (2009), a graduate fellowship in biotechnology from the National Institutes of Health and Rice University’s Institute of Biosciences and Bioengineering (2010-2011), and a Mary F.D. Morse Graduate Fellowship for Academic Achievement and Excellence in Healthcare-Related Research from  the Institute of Biosciences and Bioengineering (2010). She has a Bachelor of Science and Engineering in chemical engineering and minors in engineering biology and French literature from Princeton University. 

Founded in 1974, the Society For Biomaterials is a professional society that promotes advances in biomedical materials research and development by encouragement of cooperative educational programs, clinical applications, and professional standards in the biomaterials field.