Dr. John Szivek’s research interests in rheumatology revolve around orthopedics, including bone remodeling and bone and cartilage tissue engineering for those suffering from arthritis or other degenerative conditions affecting the body’s joints.
His projects include measurement of mechanical loads on long bones and joints in the body, studies of how implants interact with native tissues, such as bone and cartilage, and the mechanical properties of various musculoskeletal structures.
His team discovered they could grow cartilage from differentiated adult stem cells extracted from fat tissue. These cells offer numerous advantages over cartilage cells. Not only can they be changed readily into a range of other cell types, but because of their long, spindly shape—unlike the rounded shapes of cartilage cells—researchers can judge easily whether they’re aligning into the highly structured form required to build hyaline cartilage.
These cells are abundant and easier to obtain than cartilage cells and, since they’re derived from a patient’s own fat tissue, they ensure no risk for rejection once introduced into the patient. While earlier work in the Szivek lab concentrated on repairing damage to a relatively small area of a joint, the ability to grow cartilage more quickly and easily will make it possible to resurface a larger area of a damaged joint and, as such, will offer an alternative to total joint replacement.
Dr. Szivek has been with the University of Arizona as director of the Orthopaedic Research Lab since 1990. In 1998 and 2001, his faculty appointments expanded to include the Biomedical Engineering Program in the GIDP and the BIO5 Institute for Collaborative Bioresearch, respectively. He was awarded the William and Sylvia Rubin Chair of Orthopaedic Research in 2003. Dr. Szivek is a dedicated educator who mentors undergraduate and graduate students as well as medical students and orthopedic residents. You can learn more about his work from this 2010 Arizona Public Media broadcast on Arizona Illustrated, “Regenerating Arthritic Joints.”