Mechanical and Aerospace’s Ozan Akkus wins NSF grant

Ozan Akkus, professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering and the director of Orthopaedic Bioengineering Laboratory (OBL), has won a $392,000 grant from the National Science Foundation to study a new way to help rebuild damaged tendons.
The project, which includes work with biomaterials, biofabrication and stem cells, is funded jointly by the NSF’s Division of Materials Research and Division of Civil, Mechanical and Manufacturing Innovation.
The tendons of the shoulder are particularly vulnerable to degeneration with aging—especially the supraspinatus, which controls the ability to raise the arm to perform mundane tasks like reaching a shelf or brushing one’s teeth. Moreover, a significant percentage of repairs to this tendon fail.
Researchers in Akkus’ lab are using the most ubiquitous structural protein in the human body, collagen, to repair the supraspinatus. Reconstituted collagen has the consistency of Jell-O, far too weak for tendon repair. Akkus and graduate research assistant Anowarul Islam have developed a new manufacturing process to compact collagen molecules by electrical current, resulting in orders of magnitude improvement in strength. The process utilizes computer numerical control machine tools to introduce engineered pore networks in the collagen framework to facilitate the integration of stem cells while still maintaining enough strength to create lasting repairs.
According to the research team, the technique could have broader applications in tissue engineering, including bone grafts, ligament repair or even skin grafts.