HRP SU21-8: Research Opportunity with Dr. Caroline Dealy

Project Mentor

Dr. Caroline Dealy
Center for Regenerative Medicine and Skeletal Development

Undergraduate Research Opportunity Description

Project Description Post-Traumatic Osteoarthritis (PT-OA) is a severe and rapidly progressing joint degeneration that follows acute traumatic injury to the articular cartilage of the knee or ankle. Osteochondral allografting is a surgical approach that attempts to delay PT-OA onset by replacing the damaged articular cartilage with healthy articular cartilage obtained from a donor tissue bank. A challenge that limits the effectiveness of this approach is lack of seamless healing at the donor-host cartilage interface. In animal studies, we have identified a growth factor that stimulates cartilage repair potential by progenitor cells present in articular cartilage. The long-term goal of this project is to use this growth factor to develop a clinically-feasible approach to achieve seamless healing between the implanted donor graft cartilage and the patient’s own articular cartilage.
Project Direction We have developed a tissue culture system in which small discs of bovine articular cartilage can be maintained for several weeks. We have found that treating these discs with growth factor stimulates the activity of progenitor cells contained within the articular cartilage, suggesting the growth factor may have utility in cartilage healing. This summer project will test this hypothesis by evaluating the effects of the factor on injured articular cartilage in a clinically relevant in vitro model of articular cartilage integrative healing. Different doses and duration of treatment will be compared, and outcomes will examine markers of progenitor cell differentiation and cartilage matrix synthesis. Techniques will include tissue culture, histology, immunohistochemistry, confocal microscopy, and digital imaging. Continuing studies will carry out mechanical testing to quantify cartilage integration strength on injured cartilage with and without treatment. Further studies will explore clinically translatable growth factor delivery systems; studies with comparator agents, and consideration of commercial potential and future FDA regulatory requirements needed for clinical implementation.
Mentorship and Supervision My mentorship philosophy is to foster in students a sense of pride in their contribution to the project, and a sense of “ownership” of their specific project goals. This occurs when the student has become conversant in the scientific background and context of the project premise, and when the student has put in the effort and practice necessary to attain some degree of technical independence in the project. We will assist you with both, but the depth of your summer experience will reflect your own initiative, motivation and engagement.
My research staff are very experienced and typically provide students with day to day supervision and technical training. My staff and I will also assist you with trouble shooting, data interpretation and analysis. During the summer the lab meets as a group once a week to discuss research progress on all projects, and I meet with students individually at least once per week. Over the academic year I meet individually with students on a weekly basis as well. Currently all meetings are via webex or zoom.
I encourage students to take advantage of seminars or other opportunities that may enhance or help direct their future careers. Former undergraduate students I have mentored have gone on to PhD programs, medical and dental school, etc. Three students successfully earned University Scholars honors for their research project in their senior year. I encourage students to participate in writing their research results into a manuscript, review or book chapter, and most students I have mentored eventually become authors on a published work. I encourage students to present their research project not only at the required summer symposium and UConn Frontiers in Undergraduate Research Symposia, but also at other opportunities such as local or regional meetings, or in their home department or major as these may arise.
Student Qualifications The most important qualifications are engagement, excitement, willingness to learn, excellent verbal and written communication skills, and self-motivation – particularly when it comes to reading on your own about your project. We will train you in all of the laboratory techniques you will need. It is not necessary for you to have previous lab experience. The lab atmosphere is friendly but busy; everyone works hard and pitches in to help each other when needed. No particular major is preferred.
Summer Schedule Options Research Dates: May 24 to July 30, 2021
Schedule: M-F, 9am-5pm
Project Continuation Fall 2021, Spring 2022
Academic Year Time Commitment 9 hours/week
Possible Thesis Project Yes


Submit an online application for this research opportunity at The application deadline is Monday, February 1, 2021.

This application requires a resume or CV, an unofficial transcript, a brief statement of research interests, and a brief statement of career interests.