David Pierce receives the 2017 NSF CAREER award for his work on collagen microcracks.

This is the National Science Foundation’s most prestigious award to support early-career faculty to become role models in integrating outstanding research and educational objectives to advance the mission of their departments.

Osteoarthritis afflicts nearly 20% of the US population; costs over $185.5BN a year (2007); and causes pain, functional limitations, lost earnings and depression – yet we understand neither its cause nor progression. Researchers have extensively characterized microcracks in bone and sub-millimeter-scale fissures in osteoarthritis, but Dr. Pierce’s lab recently discovered that impact usually considered non-injurious in fact causes micrometer-scale cracks in collagen of human cartilage. These microcracks may lead to pre-clinical osteoarthritis, but the extent to which they grow under repetitive loads during normal daily activities is unknown.

Prof. Pierce’s project, titled “Understanding Collagen Microcracks in Soft Tissues Under Normal Body Loads,” proposed to perform fundamental research to understand growth of collagen microcracks in soft tissues by validating novel computer simulations with new experimental data. Understanding and modeling cartilage microcracks will likely lead to new therapies and/or lifestyle modification strategies for osteoarthritis patients. The research will not only investigate the characterization of one of the earliest observable signs of deterioration likely related to osteoarthritis, but also facilitate studies of other tissues and engineering materials.



Published: April 25, 2017

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