Repairing tendons in horses and humans
How does a gene direct the specific development of muscle, nervous, or connective tissue? Muscle physiologists such as Brad Reinholt are working hard to unravel this question, in order to help repair athletic injuries in both animals and humans.
Understanding the genetics behind tissue formation could help researchers create tissues to replace damaged ones in animals and people. Using an individual’s own cells to create organs bypasses immune system complications that occur when a person receives a transplant from another individual.
“It’s the big thing in regenerative medicine right now,” said Reinholt, who is working on a Ph.D. in animal and poultry sciences under the direction of Sally Johnson, Paul Mellon Distinguished Chair of Agriculture in the department of animal and poultry sciences.
Reinholt came to Virginia Tech after completing his bachelor’s degree in animal science at Purdue University. He grew up working on a hog farm in Indiana.
“I gained a lot of experience growing up around animals, and I guess what makes me a scientist is that I wanted to find out what makes them work,” Reinholt said. “I knew a lot about management of animals but I didn’t know why or the science behind the things we were doing. That is one reason I chose this field.”
In 2012, Reinholt completed a master’s degree in animal science at Virginia Tech, working in the labs of David Gerrard, department head of animal and poultry sciences and Honglin Jiang, professor of endocrinology and molecular biology. He also completed competitive internships at Dow Agrisciences and Pfizer Animal Health, now Zoetus. He decided to stay on and complete his Ph.D. at Virginia Tech to better prepare himself for advancement in industry.
Reinholt’s Ph.D. research project involves generating stem cells that can be directed into specific tissues and identifying which genes become activated to create specific tissues.
“One aspect of our research would be to force them into a tissue of interest, like muscle, or probably more interesting to us, tendon tissue, and then see which genes become activated that we can use as markers for tendon stem cells,” Reinholt said. “It’s a great project because there’s not a lot of definitive research on how to manipulate, or identify, different populations of stem cells in horses.”
Reinholt, as part of Johnson’s research team, partners with Middleburg Agricultural Research and Extension (MARE) Center in Northern Virginia which has a large industry stake-hold.
“Virginia is a big horse state and we're right in the middle of the research backing it,” Reinholt said. “What our lab is working on now is to gain greater understanding of stem cells from horses through genetics that can help treat tendon and muscle damage.”
“Brad's research is at the forefront of stem cell biology in that he is developing tools that will allow us to directly answer questions related to how a cell develops its specialized function,” Johnson said. “Tendon damage and dysfunction is a concern in both human and vet medicine. Repair of the structure is a slow process, possibly due to a limited number of tendon stem cells. Brads research seeks to understand how tendon stem cells form during development and which proteins control their activity in the adult animal. By addressing these key tenets, we hope to design microenvironments that direct multipotent stem cells to become tendon precursors.”