Why Does My Back Hurt? What Are You Going To Do About It?

Third Installment of the ORS Ask the Expert Series

Lower back pain is the leading cause of disability globally. Many of our friends, family, and colleagues often will ask why their backs hurt and if there is more that can be done to alleviate the pain (e.g., surgery, stem cell therapies, etc.). Thus, the goal of this Ask The Experts Interview installment is to shed light on current procedures and research trends for new treatments for back pain to the general public in an accessible manner.

This interview was organized by the ORS Public Outreach Committee and the Spine Section.


Ashish Diwan, MBBS, MS, DipNB, MNAMS, FRACS, FAOrthA, PhD
Director of Spine Service at the Department of Orthopaedic Surgery
St. George Hospital, University of New South Wales

Ashish is a surgeon scientist and currently Director of Spine Labs and Spine Service at St George Hospital Campus of the University of New South Wales in Sydney Australia. Following his Orthopaedic Training and PhD (UNSW) he completed a ACGME Fellowship in Spine and Scoliosis Surgery at The Hospital for Special Surgery New York, NY. Here he was the Philip D Wilson Awardee for his work on rhBMP-2 and anterior body fusion. This was critical work leading to the eventual FDA approval of infuse. On his return to Australia he established his Research group and has since then graduated 10 PhD’s and a number of Orthopaedic Surgical fellows who have gone on to academic leadership positions. He has focused his innovation on bench-to-bedside approaches and is a named inventor of 20 patents and helped with two university spin-outs. His focus has been predominantly in “gap-in-treatment” areas rather than iterations to existing tools of the trade. The challenges of translations, especially in the context of complexity of pain is where he wishes to focus the next part of his innovation journey.

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Laura Stone, PhD
Professor in the Department of Anesthesiology
University of Minnesota

Dr. Stone is a Professor in the Department of Anesthesiology at the University of Minnesota. Dr. Stone received her PhD in Neuroscience at the University of Minnesota (UMN) in 1999. As a postdoctoral trainee at the Oregon Health and Sciences University, she was the first recipient of the John J. Bonica Post-Doctoral Training Fellowship from the International Association for the Study of Pain. After working in both biotechnology and academia, she joined the Faculty at McGill University in 2007, where she co-founded and directed the Quebec Back Pain Consortium. She then returned to the UMN in 2020. Dr. Stone is an inventor on 7 patents, has received funding from both the NIH and the Canadian Institutes for Health Research, has co-authored over 80 manuscripts and was awarded the Early Career Award from the American Pain Society. Current research projects utilize both pre-clinical models and patient populations to investigate the mechanisms underlying low back and musculoskeletal pain, the optimization of pharmacological and non-pharmacological treatments and the epigenetic regulation of chronic pain.

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Lisbet Haglund, PhD
Professor and Co-Director of the Orthopaedic Research Laboratory
Montreal General Hospital

Lisbet Haglund is a basic scientist and a tenured Professor in the Department of Surgery, Division of Orthopaedic Surgery at McGill University, Montreal, Quebec, Canada.

Lisbet has a strong interest in musculoskeletal research spanning from tissue injury, degeneration, and inflammation to regenerative medicine, and she has been actively involved in bone, cartilage, and intervertebral disc research throughout her career. She has developed a research program aiming to enhance our understanding of the molecular mechanisms leading to pain in spine pathology. More precisely, to develop molecular markers to follow disease state, progression, or effect of treatment, and most importantly to develop novel therapeutic interventions for painful spine conditions. Lisbet is a member of the McGill Scoliosis and Spine Group, and she is working closely with the clinical team. This has allowed her to generate an extensive cell and tissue bank of symptomatic (surgical) and non-symptomatic (organ donor) cells and tissues. Her research program is currently funded through the Canadian Institute for Health Research (CIHR), the Shriners Hospital for Children and the Arthritis Society.

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Committee Moderators and Organizers

Thomas Leahy, PhD
Postdoctoral Fellow
University of Washington
ORS Public Outreach Committee Member

Dr. Thomas Leahy is a Postdoctoral Fellow at the Institute for Stem Cell and Regenerative Medicine at the University of Washington (Seattle, WA) under the mentorship of Dr. Nate Sniadecki. He received his B.S. in Biomedical Engineering at the University of Texas at Austin in 2017, while working in the laboratory of Dr. Michael Sacks. Afterwards, he completed his Ph.D. in Bioengineering from the University of Pennsylvania in 2023 working within the McKay Orthopaedic Labs under the guidance of Dr. Louis Soslowsky. His doctoral research focused on tendon physiology, including the roles of systemic factors (such as age or sex hormone status), ECM proteins, and mechanotransductive signaling pathways in regulating tendon developmental processes and structure-function relationships. His postdoctoral research focuses on the roles of cell adhesion signaling in regulating cardiac muscle mechanobiology within in vivo (i.e., mouse model) and in vitro (i.e., hiPSC-derived organoid) contexts. In the future, Thomas aims to combine his expertise in tendon physiology, cell mechanobiology, and hiPSC-derived in vitro models as an independent investigator. His scientific contributions have been recognized by multiple podium and poster awards from the Orthopaedics Research Society and the Penn Center for Musculoskeletal Disorders. In February 2023, Thomas joined the ORS Public Outreach Committee and has contributed to organizing the ORS Advocacy Workshop at the 2023 ORS Annual Meeting, volunteering at the 2023 ORS Open Door Event, and organizing the Ask the Experts Interview Series.

Nina (Shirley) Tang, PhD
Postdoctoral Fellow
Washington University in St. Louis
ORS Spine Section Membership Committee Member

Dr. Nina (Shirley) Tang is an NIH T32 Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the University of Washington in Saint Louis in the Department of Orthopedic Surgery, Center of Regenerative Medicine (CRM), Musculoskeletal Research Center (MRC), and Shriners Hospitals for Children under the mentorship of Dr. Farsh Guilak. She received her B.S. and Ph.D. in Biomedical Engineering from The Ohio State University (OSU) under the mentorship of Dr. Devina Purmessur. Her doctoral research focused on engineering extracellular vesicles as a non-viral delivery mechanism for therapeutic intervention of intervertebral disc degeneration. As an advocate for women in STEM, Nina was President of the Graduate Society of Women Engineers at OSU and received the 2023 Best Graduate Student Association Award. Her current post-doctoral research explores the effects of transgenerational obesity on osteoarthritis (OA) predisposition and the epigenetic mechanisms driving increasing obesity and OA prevalence globally. Her scientific and teaching contributions have been recognized by her ON/ORS Kickstarter Grant, OSU Presidential Fellowship, Graduate Student Performance Award, ORS Outreach Travel Award, Graduate Research Achievement Award, amongst numerous research presentation awards nationally and internationally. She hopes to continue her career as an independent investigator leveraging newfound skills to dissect the pathogenesis epigenetics of OA and IVD degeneration along with genetic therapies to drive tissue regeneration and mitigation of pain.


A special thank you to the following individuals who assisted in organizing this installment.

Morgan Giers, PhD
Assistant Professor of Bioengineering
Oregon State University
ORS Spine Section Education Chair

Dr. Morgan B. Giers joined Oregon State University as an Assistant Professor of Bioengineering in 2018. The Giers’ Lab at OSU focuses on patient selection and outcome prediction for intervertebral disc (IVD) regenerative and surgical treatments. Dr. Giers received her B.S. in Chemical Engineering from Missouri University of Science and Technology (formerly University of Missouri-Rolla) in 2010 and a Ph.D. in Biomedical Engineering from Arizona State University in 2013.  She then completed a postdoctoral fellowship in Neurosurgery Research at Barrow Neurological Institute. Her interdisciplinary research in drug delivery, transport phenomena, orthopedic surgery, machine learning, IVD degeneration, and MRI imaging has been presented in over 60 scientific meetings and 28 journal articles. She has had the honor of mentoring over 50 students from high school students to postdoctoral fellows in the laboratory. She serves her research community through her work on the Orthopedic Research Society Spine Section Board. Finally, she co-founded Spine by Design Inc to translate technology out of the lab and serve the spine patient community.

Dr. Jason Marvin
Postdoctoral Researcher
Harvard Medical School & Massachusetts General Hospital
ORS Public Outreach Chair

Dr. Jason (Chang) Marvin is a Dean’s Postdoctoral Fellow in the Center for Regenerative Medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) & Harvard Medical School. They received their B.S. and Ph.D. in biomedical engineering from The University of Texas at Dallas and Cornell University, respectively. Under the supervision of Dr. Nelly Andarawis-Puri, his doctoral research identified candidate protein regulators of mammalian tendon regeneration using the super-healer Murphy Roths Large (MRL/MpJ) mouse strain. Their postdoctoral research under the supervision of Dr. Jenna Galloway leverages zebrafish and stem cell models to investigate the cellular and molecular mechanisms underlying musculoskeletal tissue regeneration. As an aspiring independent investigator, they aim to complement their bioengineering skillset with genetic and developmental biology approaches to uniquely guide the development of mechanistically-informed therapeutic interventions for promoting effective tendon healing. Their research, scientific contributions, and advocacy have been recognized with the 2023 ORS New Investigator Recognition Award, 2022 ORS Tendon Section 3-Minute Thesis First Prize, ORS/ON Education Grant, NSF Graduate Research Fellowship, and Cornell Provost Diversity Fellowship among many other teaching, mentoring, and research presentation awards.