Catherine Kuo: Helping people with injured tendons and ligaments
Department of Biomedical Engineering, Hajim School
Center for Musculoskeletal Research, School of Medicine & Dentistry
Researcher Catherine K. Kuo focuses on tendons and ligaments injured due to aging, athletic endeavors, or everyday activities. After they heal they are weaker, and she seeks to understand “why they don’t heal normally, and how we can enhance the healing process or grow new tendons using a combination of stem cells and engineered biomaterials.”
Kuo, a recipient of distinguished awards for innovative research, moved to Rochester in 2015 for one overriding reason. She wants to utilize her research skills in biomedical engineering and orthopaedics in an environment “where clinicians and scientists are working side by side” to forge advances that will truly benefit patients.
Her lab focuses on musculoskeletal tissues, especially tendons and ligaments, which can be injured due to aging, athletic endeavors, or everyday activities. While bone and muscle typically heal fully after injuries, Kuo says that’s not true for tendons and ligaments. “They are weaker after healing, often associated with lifelong pain,” which is why, for example, someone who twists an ankle may have recurring problems with it.
Kuo’s team seeks to understand “why they don’t heal, and how we can replace the abnormal tendons with new ones that we grow using a combination of stem cells and engineered biomaterials.” As a scientist and biomedical engineer, she finds her proximity to the Medical campus (“a four-minute walk”) and interactions with clinicians exceptionally valuable. She has been welcomed at orthopaedic surgeons’ weekly morning conferences, and learned first-hand about challenges that clinicians face daily. Now, at her invitation, a group of surgeons is meeting weekly with her team to collaborate. “It has really impacted the culture in my lab and how we focus our projects. It helps steer us in a direction to be translational sooner.”
Asked how she discovered her passion for collaborative research Kuo smiles. It began when she lived out west and discovered a problem with disintegrating plastic composites while working at an Oregon snowboarding company. The problem led her to collaborate closely with a scientist at a nearby University to identify a solution. He advised her to consider majoring in materials science and engineering and go on to graduate school because “you’re really good at research.”
Make an Impact
Musculoskeletal disorders have a profound effect on people’s physical function, overall health, and quality of life. You can help people around the world live their lives in motion. To learn how, please contact Dianne Moll, Director of URMC Advancement, at (585) 273-5506.
—University of Rochester Medical Center Advancement Communications, December 2017