Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Graduate Group


First Advisor

Robert L. Mauck

Second Advisor

George R. Dodge


Traumatic joint injuries initiate acute degenerative changes in articular cartilage that can lead to progressive loss of load-bearing function. As a result, patients often develop post-traumatic osteoarthritis (PTOA), a condition for which there currently exists no biologic interventions. To address this need, tissue engineering aims to mimic the structure and function of healthy, native counterparts. These constructs can be used to not only replace degenerated tissue, but also build in vitro, pre-clinical models of disease. Towards this latter goal, this thesis focuses on the design of a high throughput system to screen new therapeutics in a micro-engineered model of PTOA, and the development of a mechanically-responsive drug delivery system to augment tissue-engineered approaches for cartilage repair.

High throughput screening is a powerful tool for drug discovery that can be adapted to include 3D tissue constructs. To facilitate this process for cartilage repair, we built a high throughput mechanical injury platform to create an engineered cartilage model of PTOA. Compressive injury of functionally mature constructs increased cell death and proteoglycan loss, two hallmarks of injury observed in vivo. Comparison of this response to that of native cartilage explants, and evaluation of putative therapeutics, validated this model for subsequent use in small molecule screens. A primary screen of 118 compounds identified a number of ‘hits’ and relevant pathways that may modulate pathologic signaling post-injury.

To complement this process of therapeutic discovery, a stimuli-responsive delivery system was designed that used mechanical inputs as the ‘trigger’ mechanism for controlled release. The failure thresholds of these mechanically-activated microcapsules (MAMCs) were influenced by physical properties and composition, as well as matrix mechanical properties in 3D environments. TGF-beta released from the system upon mechano-activation stimulated stem cell chondrogenesis, demonstrating the potential of MAMCs to actively deliver therapeutics within demanding mechanical environments.

Taken together, this work advances our capacity to identify and deliver new compounds of clinical relevance to modulate disease progression following traumatic injury using state-of-the-art micro-engineered screening tools and a novel mechanically-activated delivery system. These platforms advance strategies for cartilage repair and regeneration in PTOA and provide new options for the treatment of this debilitating condition.

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