Assistant Professor of Orthopaedic Surgery
University of Connecticut Health Center
PhD in Biomedical and Veterinary Sciences, Virginia Tech
BS in Biophysics, University of Michigan
How did you get involved in orthopedic research?
The evolution of biological structure and function captivated me from a young age. As an undergraduate, I focused on this topic from a very fundamental perspective at the level of intermolecular forces. Thanks to supportive mentors, I fell in love with research and applied to graduate programs where I could apply my background to a larger length scale. The musculoskeletal system is particularly interesting for someone who is interested in mechanics and the molecular basis of organismal structure-function.
Who has been (have been) your mentor(s)?
Kurt Hankenson was my postdoctoral mentor from 2015-2019 and has been unconditionally supportive during my development from fresh PhD to new faculty. Kurt continues to be an example of what it means to be both a good scientist and a good human. Gage Crump, my mentor through the ORS Collaborative Exchange Grant (more on that below), gave generously of his time, intellect, and resources to help me carve a niche that is now the basis of my independent lab. Jennifer Barrett was my PhD mentor from 2010-2015 and is responsible for turning me into a cell biologist. I would not be in the field of regenerative orthopaedics without her investment in me. I am grateful for the numerous graduate students, postdocs and faculty who took me under their wings as an undergraduate and suggested that I might be capable of a PhD. Thank you all.
What is your specific area of interest?
I study the osteoblast lineage in the context of adult skeletal regeneration, including fracture healing. Much of my recent and ongoing work is focused on the Notch signaling pathway during the acute response to bone trauma.
What are you currently working on/ plan to do in the near future?
My lab is currently studying regeneration of the craniofacial skeleton in zebrafish, an organism that has remarkable healing capacity and is particularly amenable to high-throughput in vivo molecular/genetic approaches. Our long-term goal is to identify factors of potential therapeutic or diagnostic value to human musculoskeletal health. I am fortunate to work in a supportive environment where I have endless opportunities to collaborate with gifted colleagues at all career stages who share interests in musculoskeletal biology, and I have major collaborations with Archana Sanjay, Ivo Kalajzic and others. As director of the UConn Health µCT core facility, I also really enjoy new techniques and applications of x-ray imaging—whether the samples are pre-clinical specimens or museum artifacts.
How has the ORS supported you & what is your favorite thing about the ORS?
I was awarded an ORS Collaborative Exchange Grant in 2018, and it completely changed my research trajectory. I worked with Gage Crump and his lab at Keck Medicine of USC to the point that the zebrafish is now the primary model organism in my own lab. Competing for ORS awards served as major career development milestones during my postdoc, and serving on ORS ISFR committees since 2017 has provided valuable opportunities to network and to give back to my primary professional home. Most importantly, the ORS has been a source of friendship and camaraderie. As much as the science, I treasure the adventures and bonding that are synonymous with every ORS Annual Meeting.
When not in the lab, what do you like to do for fun?
Having creative and meaningful extracurricular activities can be an important part of balancing a productive professional life. I am a woodworker, motorcyclist, and new father.