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NIH grant to fund biomedical engineering research on low back pain

Benjamin Walter

  • Assistant Professor, Biomedical Engineering

Biomedical Engineering Assistant Professor Ben Walter's investigation of novel therapies for low back pain has earned a two-year National Institutes of Heath (NIH) R21 award. 

Low back pain is the leading cause of disability worldwide, of significant socio-economic importance, and strongly associated with structural breakdown and degeneration of the intervertebral disc (IVD). Understanding the magnitude of strains and pressures the cells experience within the tissue and the mechanisms through which cells sense these signals can provide insights into the regulation of IVD development and maintenance and inform biologic strategies for potential regeneration.

Walter's project utilizes novel DNA origami biosensors and microscale mass spectroscopy techniques to determine the role the specialized tissue immediately surrounding the cell—the pericellular matrix—plays in transducing the physiochemical signals that embedded cells experience within the IVD. This information may provide insights into how mechanical loading can be harnessed to develop regenerative strategies to treat low back pain.

His collaborators include Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering Associate Professor Carlos Castro, Biomedical Engineering Associate Professor Derek Hansford and School of Earth Sciences Senior Research Scientist John Olesik.