Historically, Jefferson scientists have played a major role in unraveling the complexities of the extracellular matrix of both the soft and hard tissues. Within the past three decades, these individuals have significantly contributed to the understanding of normal tissue development, function, and architecture, and provided many new insights into the causes of diseases that assail bone, cartilage, and the intervertebral disc. Leadership provided by scientists in the departments of Orthopaedic Surgery have positioned Thomas Jefferson University as one of the top institutions in the world in musculoskeletal disease (currently we are ranked 3rd in NIAMS funding).
Currently, ongoing studies in the department are focused on two key areas of musculoskeletal research: vertebral disc disease and osteoarthritis. These research topics reflect the existing funded areas of research by our basic science faculty, as well as the enormous clinical strength of the departments’ physicians and surgeons. Together with graduate students, postdoctoral fellows, basic scientists and surgeons are working together generating new research directions, and through collaborations across departments and institutions, developing new understandings of the pathogenesis of skeletal disease and initiating breakthrough therapies.
Noteworthy, a very large percentage of our population now experiences the crippling pain of osteoarthritis and degenerative intervertebral disc disease. The incidence of low back pain, which is often linked to degenerative changes in the intervertebral disc, is extraordinarily high. As many as 80% of adults will experience at least one episode of pain during their lifetime, and 5% will experience chronic spinal disease. The annual total cost of back pain to the US healthcare industry is almost 200 billion dollars.
Although there are numerous surgical approaches for dealing with damaged or traumatized discs, the most common strategies are aimed at providing symptomatic relief. None of the current therapies can completely restore the function of the degenerative intervertebral disc and thereby prevent further deterioration of the health of the compromised spine. Demographics clearly show that the number of individuals afflicted with these disorders will significantly increase in the near future. Current investigations are directed at understanding the basic biology of the disc and to explore new mechanisms for repair using stem cells.
A similar litany of lost work days, decreased function, and absenteeism can be made for osteoarthritis. More than 46 million people in the US suffer from osteoarthritis, with an estimated annual cost of 10.3 billion dollars. By 2030, 67 million Americans will be suffering from the effects of this condition. Fortunately, there have been impressive developments in the treatment of advanced osteoarthritis, such as use of artificial joints to treat hip disease. Nevertheless, our understanding of joint disease is rudimentary and current therapies, aimed at reducing suffering, are limited. The challenge now facing departmental researchers is to elucidate the pathogeneses of these maladies and to use this new information to design rational treatments that serve to restore function to diseased cells and tissues. Accordingly, researchers in the department are exploring mechanism to eliminate infections associated with implants and exploring new approaches to regenerate lost tissues using state-of-the-art physical techniques.
Through outstanding patient-centered care, research, and education, the department provides a world-class center for residents, postdoctoral fellows, researchers, and clinicians. More than 50 board-certified physicians develop, teach, and practice groundbreaking therapies and technologies that shape patient care and practice around the country. These specialists use both surgical and nonsurgical procedures to treat six specialty areas of orthopedics: hip and knee, shoulder and elbow, foot and ankle, hand and wrist, spine, and sports medicine. While patient care represents a major activity of the faculty, there is a parallel emphasis on research and teaching. The Division of Orthopaedic Research is consistently ranked in the top five of NIH-funded centers for orthopaedics. Ongoing research focuses on orthopaedic infections, degenerative disc disease, musculoskeletal genetics, and osteoarthritis research. Moreover, the Clinical Research Center is a major center for clinical trials and tissue collection. Thus, the environment created by our faculty offers outstanding opportunities through a large clinical practice and multiple funded research programs. Finally, through the College of Graduate Studies, the department hosts a PhD/MD and PhD training program in Tissue Engineering and Regenerative Medicine. We are very proud of our department, and we invite you to learn more by exploring our academic and clinical websites further.