Glen Niebur

Glen Niebur

Professor of Aerospace and Mechanical Engineering at the University of Notre Dame

University of Notre Dame

The Notre Dame Tissue mechanics laboratory studies the mechanical properties of skeletal tissues to better understand their fitness for function, and to determine how mechanical stimuli affect cellular response. Two current studies are related to osteonecrosis of the jaw and the role of mechanics in metastatic engraftment of tumor cells in bone marrow.

Osteonecrosis of the jaw (ONJ): ONJ is the degeneration of the bone and surrounding soft-tissue in the mouth, causing loss of teeth, pain, and disfigurement. It is a serious side affect of high-dose treatment with bone resorption inhibitors, which is a common and FDA approved treatment to prevent metastasis of tumors to bone. ONJ usually occurs after dental treatments in patients who are being treated with anti-resorption drugs, but little else is known about the mechanisms that cause rapid bone loss in the jaws of these patients. In conjunction with Dr. Ravosa's laboratory, we are developing biological models of this disease that can be reliably used to analyze the underlying causes and potential treatments.

Bone metastasis: Many cancers metastasize (migrate, attach, and grow) to bone marrow. The phenomenon has been attributed to the marrow providing "fertile soil" for cancer cells to grow in. This disease is problematic, because it is difficult to detect the metastasis inside the bone, where it is difficult to see, even using x-ray or MRI methods. Typically the first detection occurs when the patient experiences pain, or serious degeneration of the bone is detected. Our group and Dr. Laurie Littlepage are developing methods to study metastasis in human bone samples collected from our collaborator Luke Nystrom at Loyola University. We intend to study how mechanical stimuli might affect the ability of the tumor to attach and grow in bone marrow.

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