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KU Engineering Professor Receives Award for Cartilage Research

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Promising research results that could improve the lives of those who suffer from chronic knee problems has earned one University of Kansas School of Engineering professor a prestigious grant to advance his work.

Michael Detamore, associate professor of chemical and petroleum engineering, has received a two-year, $180,000 Coulter Foundation Award for Translational Research. The award allows Detamore to expand his groundbreaking research on cartilage regeneration, in an effort to bring it closer to clinical trials and eventual widespread distribution.

Detamore and Cory Berkland, associate professor of chemical and petroleum engineering, have developed a method for incorporating a versatile substance known as microspheres into the treatment for degenerating cartilage. Unlike bone, which has tremendous capacity for repair, cartilage does not heal well on its own.

Berkland and Detamore’s research, originally supported by a $1.3 million, five-year award from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in 2010, utilizes microspheres that work with bone and cartilage simultaneously, promoting regeneration with a seamless transition between the two.

“Dealing with bone and cartilage at the same time allows integration with underlying bone, which serves as an anchor for the material,” Detamore said. “We’re also able to take advantage of the reservoir of stem cells from the underlying marrow within the bone. When the microspheres are set in place, they almost turn a red color because all the marrow soaks up all the cells just like a sponge into this material. The stem cells from the patient’s own marrow can then respond to the microspheres to rebuild cartilage that is as good as new.”

The NIH typically funds highly innovative projects in their earliest stages. The Coulter Award provides key support for advancing the project by seeing Detamore’s research safely through what’s known in scientific circles as the “Valley of Death” funding gap.

“We see it all the time, a project where the technology is far enough along that a researcher is no longer developing something ‘new,’ so the NIH begins to lose interest,” Detamore said. “But it’s also true that investors don’t have interest because the researchers haven’t taken out the risk by doing the necessary studies to make it safer for them to invest in, so it’s difficult to find someone or an agency to invest in research when it’s at that stage.”

With the funds from the Coulter Award, Detamore will be able to research a more accurate representation of the human knee, in the hope of generating new information that could change the landscape of cartilage regeneration.

“Advancement in the data that shows this research looks successful is going to get attention and interest from surgeons and get them to believe that it’s something they should try with their patients,” Detamore said. “It also gets investors to believe that it’s something that would be a lot less risky to invest their millions into.”

Vincent Key, assistant professor of orthopedic surgery at the KU School of Medicine, served as the clinical co-investigator on the project. Detamore also credits Berkland, who won a Coulter Award in 2008 for his research on inhalable therapeutics, for providing valuable guidance to help him secure this award.

“This award is the result of the continued excellence of Michael Detamore and has the potential to have a long-lasting positive effect on those suffering from cartilage damage,” said Dean of Engineering Stuart Bell. “It’s exciting to see this type of groundbreaking research at KU and provides another example of how the School of Engineering remains at the forefront in bioengineering research and development.”

Detamore is one of two KU researchers to be announced today as Coulter Foundation Award recipients. Jennifer Laurence, associate professor of pharmaceutical chemistry at the KU School of Pharmacy, received a Coulter Foundation Award for cancer treatment delivery research.



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