10 Dr. Fiona Freeman (Post Doc)

After obtaining her Bachelor’s degree in Biomedical Engineering in NUI Galway in 2011, Fiona began her PhD in the Biomedical Engineering department in NUIG with the title “Endochondral Ossification: A new strategy for bone tissue regeneration”. The PhD work involved developing and implementing novel in vitro strategies for in vitro priming of constructs with the aim of generating the optimal format for implantation and bone formation in vivo. Fiona’s PhD focused on trying to replicate the endochondral ossification process, specifically she focused on determining the optimal format for implantation and bone formation in vivo. Fiona passed her VIVA examination in August 2015 and is due to graduate February 2016. Currently, as a postdoctoral researcher, Fiona’s research is aimed at developing an innovative methodology that relies on replicating the cellular, biochemical and mechanical environment during endochondral ossification in order to further enhance the bone regeneration potential of bone tissue engineered constructs.

image-11.png Dr. Noel Reynolds (Post Doc)

After obtaining his Bachelor’s degree in Mechanical Engineering in NUI Galway in 2010, Noel began his PhD in the Biomedical Engineering department in NUIG with the title “Experimental and computational investigation of the active force generation of cells subjected to static and dynamic loading”. The PhD work involved designing and implementing novel in vitro experimental methodologies and state-of-the-art computational techniques to investigate the contribution of the actin cytoskeleton to the mechanical behaviour of cells. Noel is due to undergo his viva examination in December 2015.

As part of his postdoctoral work Noel will perform in vitro experiments to examine the biomechanics involved in bone remodelling, with a view to understanding how mechanical cues lead to homeostatic imbalance in bone and diseases such as osteoporosis.

2 Dr. Feihu Zhao 

Feihu Zhao joined the group as a Ph.D. student in December 2012 after receiving his M.Sc. degree (Machine Automation) from Tampere University of Technology, Finland. During his M.Sc. study, Feihu Zhao designed and optimised a biomedical device, which was used for mechanical stimulation of cells (i.e. bone cells, cardiomyocytes), and quantified the mechanical environment in the device by computational approaches. Previously, Feihu obtained his B.Eng. degree (Mechanical Engineering) from Huaihai Institute of Technology, China.  His current PhD research involves predicting the mechanical environment that drives bone regeneration within tissue engineering scaffolds, and mechanical characterisation of stem cells during osteogenic differentiation and is funded through the European Research Council (ERC) grant, BONEMECHBIO, to Prof. Laoise McNamara.

Project Description

The primary aim of this study is to predict the mechanical environment that will drive bone regeneration, and optimise the mechanical stimulation for bone tissue engineering experiments. In this study, Feihu investigated the influence of scaffold geometry and applied loading on the resultant mechanical stimulation within TE scaffolds. He develops novel computational models (i.e. multiscale fluid-structure interaction) to quantify the mechanical stimulation imparting on bone cells within scaffolds. His research seeks to optimise mechanical stimulation based on a mechano-regulation model, which predicts the bone formation within tissue engineering scaffold. As a part of this research, Feihu also conducts the mechanical characterisation of adipose stem cells (ASCs) during osteogenic differentiation by atomic force microscopy (AFM) approach.

Conleth Dr. Conleth Mullen

Conleth’s research examined the effects of substrate stiffness and intercellular separation on osteocyte differentiation, demonstrating for the first time the in vitro differentiation of early stage osteocytes without the addition of osteogenic growth factors.

Conleth also used computational modelling techniques to examine the effects of cell stiffness, substrate stiffness, cell morphology and focal adhesion location on internal cell tension. This highlighted internal cell tension as a possible driver of the morphological and phenotypic change observed in the cells during mechanotransduction.

As part of his PhD studies, he also travelled to Worcester Polytechnic Institute to complete experiments into the combined effects of substrate modulus, thickness and heterogeneity on cell behaviour. Using cell spread area as an indicator of differentiation potential, he demonstrated that these three inter-related factors combine to control the stiffness as experienced by the cell. These experimental findings were then confirmed using finite element modelling.

linkedin pic.jpg Dr. Eimear Dolan

After obtaining her Bachelor’s degree in Biomedical Engineering in NUI Galway in 2010, Eimear began her PhD in the Biomedical Engineering department in NUIG with the title “Thermal Elevations of Orthopaedic Procedures: A Bone Cell Perspective” supervised by Prof. Laoise McNamara in collaboration with Stryker Instruments. Eimear’s PhD work involved developing computational and experimental studies to investigate the temperature generation and distribution throughout bone tissue during orthopaedic cutting procedures and how these temperatures affect postoperative bone regeneration.

Eimear is now working as a postdoctorate researcher with Dr. Bruce Murphy in the Trinity Centre for Bioengineering at Trinity College Dublin with the Advanced Materials for Cardiac Regeneration (AMCARE) consortium. AMCARE aims to establish a translational research program to develop truly restorative therapies for acute myocardial infarction (MI) repair by optimising cardiac progenitor cell therapy using smart biomaterials and advanced drug delivery, and coupling these therapeutics with minimally-invasive surgical devices. Specifically, Eimear and other consortium members are developing thedevice to deliver the advanced biomaterial into the heart wall in a minimally invasive approach. These multimodal therapies developed by this collaborative 7th Framework Programme European Commission project aim to modify the underlying pathology of the post-MI disease state, specifically replacing lost cells due to ischemia with functionally competent viable cells using cardiopoietic stem cells.AMCARE is a 4-year Horizon 2020 project with 10 acaedemic and industrial European partners, coordinated by the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland (RCSI).

Bio Photo Stefaan Verbruggen.jpg Dr. Stefaan Verbruggen

Dr.Verbruggen’s thesis investigated the mechanical environment of the osteocyte in both healthy and osteoporotic bone, providing a greater understanding of bone mechanobiology. Using a combination of image segmentation and multiphysicscomputational modelling techniques, he developed accurate models of the intricate architecture of the lacunar-canalicular network and provided a novel insight into the mechanical stimuli sensed by the osteocyte in vivo. Furthermore, he developed a novel combined experimental loading and confocal microscopy technique, allowing direct characterisation of the strains experienced by live bone cells in situ during physiological loading. His research has illuminated a possible mechanobiological link between strains experienced by osteocytes and the complex changes the properties of bone tissue that occur during the development of osteoporosis.These studies were recognised with multiple national and international awards, including Best Paper at the 21st Annual Symposium on Computational Methods in Orthopaedic Biomechanics, First Prize in the MIMICS Innovation Awards, and the 2013 Engineers Ireland Biomedical Research Medal.

Dr.Verbruggen joined the Department of Bioengineering at Imperial College London in 2014 as a postdoctoral Research Associate. His current research is in the area of developmental biomechanics, exploring how the prenatal biomechanical environment affects the development of musculoskeletal diseases in later life. In particular, he applies a novel combination of cine-MRI scans and computational methods to determine the strength of a baby’s kick during pregnancy, and how the resulting mechanical stimulation relates to bone and joint formation before birth.

Dr. Meadhbh Brennan

Meadhbh dedicated her PhD research to discerning the alterations in the quantity and distribution of bone mineral during osteoporosis. She conducted in vitro studies which found that estrogen and notably estrogen withdrawal altered normal mineralization by osteoblasts and osteocytes, and estrogen depletion changed the mechano-responsiveness of bone cells. In vivo studies tested the hypotheses that bone mineral distribution is altered at a tissue level following estrogen deficiency and bisphosphonate treatment using an ovine model of osteoporosis. Quantitative backscattered imaging (qBEI) on a scanning electron microscope (SEM) was used to examine individual bone trabeculae (Figure 1 A) from the proximal femur of sheep. This project found that estrogen deficiency increased mineral heterogeneity (Figure 1 B), in particular in the most common osteoporotic fracture site known as the inter-trochanteric fracture line. In addition, it was found that the bisphosphonate Zoledronic Acid homogenized the mineral distribution, which may contribute to its ability to prevent fracture occurrence during osteoporosis. Meadhbh commenced her postdoctoral research at INSERM UMR957, Faculty of Medicine, in France, in 2012, to work on a European-wide FP7 funded bone tissue engineering project. Her role was in the preclinical research, integral to the clinical trials currently underway, and focused primarily on in vitro and in vivo studies of bone marrow mesenchymal stromal cells (MSC) with calcium phosphate biomaterials. She is currently an INSERM research fellow investigating alternative sources of stem cells for bone tissue engineering such as from adipose tissue or cord blood, researching in vitro predictors of in vivo donor variability, and assessing the role of MSC secreted factors in bone tissue engineering.

 9 Dr. Vishwa Deepak

Dr V. Deepak holds a doctorate in Biochemistry & Molecular Biology from Northeast Normal University, China. He received a PhD fellowship jointly awarded by the Ministry of HRD, Government of India and the Government of China under a bilateral exchange programme. Dr Deepak recently joined Prof. McNamara’s research group after completing his Postdoctoral research at the University of Pretoria, South Africa. He received Vice Chancellor’s Postdoctoral Research fellowship at the University of Pretoria.
During his PhD, Dr Deepak’s research focused on osteoblast differentiation induced by the master transcription factor RUNX2 and the epigenetic mechanisms underlying the transcriptional control of osteoblast differentiation. During his recent postdoctoral research work at the University of Pretoria, Dr Deepak worked on the discovery of novel plant-derived small molecules with potent inhibitory effects against osteoclast formation.
Dr Deepak in collaboration with Prof McNamara at the National University of Ireland-Galway further explores the novel and intricate mechanisms involved in the mechanosensing and mechanotransduction pathways regulated by osteocytes in bone. This involved characterising and exploiting these pathways as a therapeutic target against osteolytic diseases such as osteoporosis by employing in vitro, ex vivo and in vivo models.