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The Skeleton: New Opportunities in Biomedical Engineering

Release Date:
9/20/2012 12:00 AM

Karl Insogna Steven Tommasini composite, osteoporosis, features Karl Insogna (left), Steven Tommasini


The Alvine Engineering Professional Effectiveness and Enrichment Program will present a lecture on the pathogenesis of osteoporosis and fragility fractures. The adult skeleton is a dynamic organ that renews itself and responds to mechanical and hormonal stimuli through the coordinated actions of bone resorbing cells, called osteoclasts, bone forming cells called osteoblasts and a syncytium of regulatory mechanosensing cells entombed in bone, called osteocytes. These cells collaborate to form skeletal remodeling “teams” termed basic multicellular units (BMU). In response to repeated mechanical loading new bone can be formed through the action of the BMUs activated in regions of the skeleton under stress. Similarly, in the unloaded state, rapid bone loss can occur. Hormones such as estrogen profoundly influence the activity of the BMU and in the estrogen-deficient state rapid bone loss occurs because the activity of the osteoclasts outstrips that of the osteoblasts. This eventually leads to structural compromise of bone and fragility fractures. The osteocyte is the mechanosensor in bone and osteocyte-derived biochemical signals that regulate bone remodeling are being uncovered. However how the mechanical signal is sensed and transduced to these biochemical outputs remains unclear.

With the bone remodeling unit as a framework this seminar will discuss the pathogenesis of osteoporosis and fragility fractures including the contributions of reduced bone mass and impaired bone quality, the contribution of certain drugs such as glucocorticoids and impact of falls on fracture pathogenesis. The role of the osteocyte as a mechanosensor and the use of mechanical stimulation as therapy will be highlighted as well as the several bioengineering challenges that osteoporosis presents such as restoring or replacing lumbar and thoracic vertebrae.


Dr. Karl Insogna is a tenured Professor in Medicine at Yale with a long-standing interest in the field of metabolic bone disease.  B.A with Honors in Biology, University of Connecticut, Storrs, CT, 1972 and M.D. University of Connecticut School of Medicine, 1976. He is a member of the American Society for Clinical Investigation and a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. In 2011 he was elected to the Board of Trustees of the National Osteoporosis Foundation. He currently is the Director of the Yale Bone Center, which is listed by the National Osteoporosis Foundation as a major treatment center in Connecticut for patients with osteoporosis.  The Insogna research laboratory has three components: Translational Research, Clinical Research, and Analytical Clinical Research.  He is a leading researcher in the causes of bone loss in such diseases as osteoporosis and is currently conducting studies focused on the role of dietary protein in preserving skeletal health, and has served on several Study Sections for the National Institutes of Health. He has published 133 peer-reviewed publications in leading journals such as the JCI, Science and Endocrinology.  He has published numerous chapters and reviews.

Dr. Steven Tommasini did his undergraduate work at Columbia University. He received his Master’s and PhD in Biomedical Engineering from the City University of New York. He did his post-doctoral research at Stony Brook University. He came to Yale as an Assistant Professor in the Department of Orthopaedics in November of 2011. He is a member of the Yale Core Center for Musculoskeletal Disorders. Dr. Tommasini’s research interests are in the in the relationship between bone quality, metabolism, and mechanosensitivity, especially how changes in metabolism (as a result of diet, age, drug treatment, or estrogen withdrawal) alter the morphology of the osteocyte lacunar-canalicular network potentially affecting bone’s response to biomechanical stimuli. He is the author of 12 peer-reviewed publications and one review.


Sept. 26, from 12:15 p.m. – 1:30 p.m.            


The Schuman Auditorium in the Tagliatela College of Engineering, Room B120, University of New Haven

FOR MORE INFORMATION:  Contact Ismail Orabi at

The University of New Haven is a private, top-tier comprehensive institution recognized as a national leader in experiential education. Founded in 1920 on the campus of Yale University in cooperation with Northeastern University, UNH moved to its current West Haven campus in 1960. The University provides its students with a unique combination of a solid liberal arts education and real-world, hands-on career and research opportunities. UNH enrolls approximately 6,400, including nearly 1,800 graduate students and more than 4,600 undergraduates – the majority of whom reside in University housing. Through its College of Arts and Sciences, College of Business, Henry C. Lee College of Criminal Justice and Forensic Sciences, Tagliatela College of Engineering, and College of Lifelong & eLearning, UNH offers 75 undergraduate and graduate degree programs. UNH students have access to more than 50 study abroad programs worldwide and its student-athletes compete in 16 varsity sports in the NCAA Division II’s highly competitive Northeast-10 Conference.