Woodruff School of Mechanical Engineering

Faculty Candidate Seminar


Soft Tissue Biomechanics and Functional Tissue Engineering


Dr. Grace OConnell


Columbia University, New York, New York


Monday, March 5, 2012 at 11:00:00 AM


MRDC Building, Room 4211


Dr. Todd Sulchek


The musculoskeletal system is comprised of large load bearing soft tissues that absorb and distribute the complex loads placed on the joint. The intervertebral disc is comprised of mechanically and structurally unique substructures including the annulus fibrosus and the nucleus pulposus, which function together to support and absorb spinal loads. Disc degeneration occurs as early as the second decade of life and contributes to over $130 billion in medical costs. Disc degeneration causes drastic changes in composition and may lead to altered mechanics; however, the changes in the internal mechanical function of the nucleus and annulus are not well understood. Moreover, injury of the disc, such as herniation of nucleus pulposus material through the annulus fibrosus, causes low back pain and may alter the mechanical function of the disc. Removal of the herniated nucleus pulposus material alleviates low back pain, but may alter the internal mechanical function, which may lead to further degenerative changes. Noninvasive techniques to measure internal mechanical properties will be discussed. Future effective treatment for herniated tissue may include an engineered biological replacement tissue, which may prevent further degeneration and reduce the need for total joint replacement or spinal fusion. One approach to biological repair strategies that will be discussed is to cultivate engineered tissue in vitro, permitting some elaboration of extracellular matrix for improved long-term outcome following in vivo implantation.


Dr. O’Connell received a B.S. in Aerospace Engineering from the University of Maryland in 2004. She received a PhD in Bioengineering from the University of Pennsylvania in 2009. Dr. O’Connell joined the Cellular Engineering Laboratory as a postdoctoral research fellow in 2009. Her predoctoral research focused on (i) the effect of degeneration and discectomy on the intervertebral disc mechanical function, (ii) the effect of degeneration on the annulus fibrosus mechanical function, and (iii) constitutive modeling of the annulus fibrosus mechanical behavior. Dr. O’Connell’s postdoctoral research has focused on using tissue engineering techniques as a repair strategy for osteoarthritic and damage articular cartilage. Her research has received funding from the National Science Foundation (NSF-EAPSI), the National Institutes of Health (NIH - F31 Predoctoral Fellowship), and the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB). The FASEB fellowship allowed her to expand her postdoctoral research into biomaterials by training with Dr. Ravi Bellamkonda at the Georgia Institute of Technology (2011). She is a member of the Orthopaedic Research Society (ORS), the Biomedical Engineering Society (BMES) and the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME).