The start of my Health Sciences Research Fellowship Journey!

Hello, my name is Katelyn Lipa, a rising junior from Doylestown, PA! I am pleased to be spending another summer at the University of Pittsburgh, continuing to develop my research techniques. I work at the Lin Lab, a joint organization between the Department of Orthopaedic Surgery and the University of Pittsburgh Department of Engineering, under the supervision of Dr. Hang Lin.

My project focuses on establishing a biochemical correlation between osteoarthritis (OA) and obesity. OA is a debilitating joint disease, affecting millions worldwide, and is characterized by joint inflammation, chronic pain, and reduced range of motion. Though OA correlates with a variety of risk factors, one of the dominating correlations occurs with obesity. This relationship was inferred as due to the additional weight upon the joints, but contrastingly, hand OA also associates with obesity, uprooting this belief. Therefore, other biochemical factors should be evaluated to correlate OA and obesity.

Our lab has developed a microphysiological knee joint system (microJoint) to overcome limitations found in other cell culture methods or animal models. This microJoint model contains the major components found in the human knee joint, including bone, cartilage, synovium, and fat (adipose) tissues, engineered from various types of stem cells. These tissues are connected to allow tissue-tissue crosstalk, shown to play a critical role in OA pathogenesis. The goal of my project is to simulate obesity-like changes in adipose tissue and evaluate their effects on the other tissues in the microJoint.

Specifically, we will use induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) and differentiate them into adipose tissues. Once differentiated, sodium palmitate, a salt of palmitate acid (a free fatty acid) will be added to the culture medium in induce “obese” fat tissue. We expect Palmitic acid to cause hypertrophy of adipose tissues. We will then evaluate the influence of “obese” adipose tissue on the other microJoint tissues. We hypothesize sodium palmitate will result in an elevated hypertrophic phenotype of the adipose tissue, causing increased cartilage degradation and generation of inflamed synovial tissue.

Understanding the biochemical interactions between obesity and OA will provide future avenues to treat obesity-associated OA, which will be of high importance in the growing “obesity epidemic.” It is predicted that by 2030, roughly one in two U.S. citizens will be obese, and one in four will be morbidly obese.

Even with my passion for this project, my professional goals remain unclear. I love my work in research, but I feel a strong pull towards the medical field, a passion to help those around me. While I intend to stay within Health Sciences, I am not sure if this will focus on research, or I will enter medical school. The Health Sciences Research Fellowship will greatly aid me, helping me delve further into the world of research, so I can know whether this is the career for me. Not only this, but the fellowship will facilitate communication with my peers, so I can see other options available for me!

With my major in bioengineering, this project encapsulates my goals for future work: helping those around me via innovation! Additionally, I am pursuing a Certificate in Conceptual Foundations of Medicine and a minor in Chemistry, to aid in my future endeavors. Along with my enjoyment of academia, I enjoy cooking and baking in my free time, and will be spending this summer enjoying hikes around the Pittsburgh area!

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