Research

The Lincoln Centre currently provides support for research into Bone and Joint Diseases and Hand Surgery through the funding of one research department, two research directors, and the provision of funding for specific research projects and education activities.

 

Department of Hand Surgery and Peripheral Nerve Surgery, Royal North Shore Hospital

Hand Surgery is the management of afflictions of the hand and wrist, management of upper limb conditions that affect hand function and microsurgical reconstruction of the hand and upper limb. Hand surgery deals with the skin and its contents, all of which are based on the skeleton of the hand and upper limb; the joints which allow positioning and function of the hand; the tendons and their muscles which control joint motion; the nerves which provide the messages for muscle control and activity, supply sensation to the skin and instruct the position and integrity of joint behaviour; and the vessels which provide life for all tissues, bone and soft tissue. 

 

The emphasis of research in the Department is the review of clinical conditions, their management, and how to obtain optimal outcomes, as well as overseeing basic scientific projects directed towards tendon healing, optimal suture techniques within tendons, bone healing and anatomical studies.

The Department of Hand Surgery and Peripheral Nerve Surgery is involved in numerous research projects within Royal North Shore Hospital and North Shore Private Hospital. This research is run in collaboration with pharmaceutical companies, physiotherapists, the Department of Orthopaedics, quadriplegia units, the Maxwell Murray Biomechanics Laboratory and the Sutton Laboratories. The department conducts clinical studies, anatomical and biomechanical studies, case studies/series and literature reviews.,along with hosting fellows and research students.

​Sutton Arthritis Research Laboratories - A/Prof Meilang Xue

A/Professor Xue is the director of Sutton Arthritis Research Laboratory and chief scientist of the Australian Arthritis and Autoimmune Biobank Collaborative (A3BC) Biobank in the Institute of Bone & Joint Research. She was awarded a PhD from the University of New South Wales in 2002 and joined the Sutton Arthritis Laboratory - the first dedicated laboratory in Australia founded for research into arthritis. Her research has focused on defining the molecular and cellular mechanisms of rheumatoid arthritis and cutaneous wound healing in order to identify potential therapeutic targets of these diseases. 

Some specific projects include links between infection and arthritis, investigating drug treatments for rheumatoid arthritis, and developing predictive biomarkers for rheumatoid arthritis. Her research has yielded over 70 journal articles and 6 book chapters, and extends into clinical translation with 3 patents granted & 15 pending. 

Murray Maxwell Biomechanics Laboratory - Dr Elizabeth Clarke

The Lincoln Centre helped to establish the position of Director of Murray Maxwell Biomechanics Laboratory, now located within the Kolling Institute on the Royal North Shore campus, University of Sydney.  Dr Richard Appleyard was the inaugural Director, leaving in 2010 to join the Macquarie University Hospital campus.

 

Dr Elizabeth Clarke was appointed as Director of the Murray Maxwell Biomechanics Laboratory in 2010. She has a background in Mechanical Biomedical Engineering (the University of Sydney) and she completed her PhD in spinal biomechanics in 2008. Dr Clarke has expertise in injury, soft tissue, and orthopaedic biomechanics. Her major area of research is the prevention, repair and pathology of ligament and tendon injuries. Current research projects include: improving graft options for ligament replacement using a kangaroo tendon xenograft; weakness, pain and osteoarthritis following knee / ACL injury via different mechanisms; local and distant effects of tendon / ligament injury on strength, structure, and composition; and clinical collaborations to improve the outcomes of tendon repair surgery.

 

The Murray Maxwell Laboratory collaborates closely with other bone and joint research laboratories and Orthopaedic and Hand surgeons. Dr Clarke's collaborative research has discovered ways that tendinopathy changes the properties of tendons, ways to improve tendon strength after injury and bone strength after removal of orthopaedic plates, tendon suturing techniques to improve strength, and characterisation of properties of new orthopaedic screw designs. 

 

 

PREVIOUS SUCCESSFUL GRANT APPLICATIONS

Successful 2019 Research Applications for funding in 2020

Dr Li – Kolling Institute/ University of Sydney, Tissue Engineering/Science - A new regenerative therapy for treating thumb base osteoarthritis – Awarded $31,397

 

Thumb base osteoarthritis is a common, significantly disabling condition affecting the majority of the ageing population. Intra-articular injections of corticosteroids or hyaluronic acid are often indicated when conservative treatments can no longer control symptoms, but have variable effects on pain reduction and functional improvement. This study explores extracellular vesicles derived from mesenchymal stem cells as a potential future therapy for treating thumb base osteoarthritis, drawing on their anti-inflammatory and pro-regenerative effects. Specifically, methods for generating the extracellular vesicles will be developed, and their efficacy tested in a 3D bioprinted osteoarthritic joint.

 

A/Prof Meilang Xue - Kolling Institute/ University of Sydney, Science - EPCR deficiency attenuates rheumatoid arthritis in mice via inhibiting dentritic cell maturation and migration – Awarded $27,000

 

Arthritis is the major cause of disability and chronic pain in Australia. Rheumatoid arthritis is one of the most damaging forms. A subset of immune cells named as dendritic cells play critical roles in the starting and worsening of rheumatoid arthritis. Manipulation of dendritic cell function has shown therapeutic effects in patients with rheumatoid arthritis. A protein named endothelial protein C receptor (EPCR) is abundantly present in rheumatoid arthritis joint tissue which harbors high numbers of dendritic cells, but the function of this protein in rheumatoid arthritis /dendritic cells remains unknown. This study will use mice that are unable to make EPCR to investigate the role of EPCR in dendritic cell function in rheumatoid arthritis.

 

Dr Lara Bereza-Malcolm - Kolling Institute/ University of Sydney, Science  - The microbiome of rheumatoid arthritis patients: microscopic but not invisible – Awarded $31,560

 

An altered composition of the human microbiome (all bacteria, fungi and virus present in/on the human body) is now being identified in individuals with rheumatoid arthritis. Interestingly, while multiple factors can alter the presence and/or absence of bacteria, including geography and diet, no microbiome research focused on an Australian rheumatoid arthritis population has been published, to date. This project will identify differences in the presence/absence of specific groups of bacteria present in individuals with no autoimmune disease (i.e. healthy) and those diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis. This project will further knowledge on the role of the microbiome in rheumatoid arthritis pathogenesis and disease management.

Dr Vipul Agarwal - University of New South Wales, Science - Controlling the lineage-specific osteogenic differentiation of human mesenchymal stem cells – Awarded $10,000

Non-union traumatic bone injuries and critical-size bone defects remains a significant clinical challenge caused by the limited ability of the innate bone cells to regenerate. The stem cell therapy has emerged as a viable alternative however, the necessity of proteins required to active implanted stem cells to specifically make bone cells limit their clinical applicability. This project will develop multifunctional nanoparticles which can be easily internalised by the stem cells and direct them to form bone cells after implantation. Thus, promoting the ability of the native bone to regenerate and bridge the critical-size bone defects. 

 

Successful 2018 Research Applications for funding in 2019

 

Dr Clarke – Kolling Institute/University of Sydney, Biomechanics/Surgery – Kangaroo Tendon Xenograft for Hand Surgery – Awarded $39,408

This project explores the functional suitability of kangaroo tail tendons as a natural, reliable, off-the-shelf graft for tendon surgery in the human hand. Tendons connect muscle to bone to facilitate movement. If tendons are severely injured or diseased, or if joints are unstable or painful, then surgical repair or reconstruction using a graft material may be performed to restore function. We will compare the mechanical and structural properties of kangaroo tail tendons with human cadaveric tendons from the hand, foot and forearm to determine the functional suitability of this novel Australian graft material for hand surgery.

 

Professor Goldys – University of New South Wales, Science – Progression of Cartilage Degeneration/Repair Awarded $48,571

The joints of the hand are cushioned by soft cartilage. However, cartilage can break down resulting in pain and the loss of function (arthritis). Cartilage is very slow to repair itself and there are no reliable treatments to restore it. We need to know more about how cartilage breaks down and repairs, but all the ways of collecting advanced information also destroy the sample being studied. This means we can’t study how these processes progress overtime. However, we have a new technology called hyperspectral microscopy which collects advanced information on the state of cartilage without damaging it which we plan to use to solve this problem.

 

Dr Tsang – University of Sydney, Science – Stem Cells for Flexor Tendon Repair – Awarded $33,530

Techniques to effectively repair injured tendons are currently unreliable. Rupture of repaired tissue occurs in approximately 5% of cases during the 10-week period after the initial injury and long -term complications such as adhesion formation, joint contracture and cold sensitivity can occur in up to 66% of patients. Investigation into techniques that can improve the quality and strength of the repair and reduce complications are warranted. This study utilizes an established animal model of flex or tendon injury to determine whether treating injured tendons with stem cells, at different times after injury, can improve the quality and/or speed of healing.

 

Successful 2017 Research Applications for funding in 2018

1. The role of PAR1 and PAR2 in the regulation of anti-infection ability of inflammatory cells and mucosal epithelium where infection may trigger rheumatoid arthritis

Investigators: Meilang Xue, Christopher Jackson

Awarded: $25,000

Summary: The cause of rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is not clear however bacterial infection of gut and/or oral cavity is a trigger for RA onset in susceptible individuals. Two proteins named as PAR1 and PAR2 are involved in bacterial detection and arthritis progression. This project will examine the function of PAR1 and PAR2 in the regulation of bacterial killing ability of immune cells and the anti-infection response of oral and gut epithelial cells.

2.Extensor tendon excursion at the proximal phalanx: clinical application to rehabilitation programs

Investigators: Ray Jongs, Sarah Tolerton, Belinda Smith, Mark Hile

Awarded: $9,600

Summary: This project investigates a variety of finger exercises on human cadaveric hands to determine which combinations create the most extensor tendon motion, therefore determining which are the most effective exercises for extensor tendon glide

Successful 2016 Research Applications for funding in 2017

Three grants were awarded in 2016 to support the following projects:

  1. Effect of combined conservative therapies on clinical outcomes in patients with thumb base osteoarthritis: a randomised, controlled trial (COMBO).

- Dr Sarah Ferriera de Meneses

Osteoarthritis (OA) is a chronic, disabling and prevalent disease. Hand OA is the most common subtype, affecting 43% of the population worldwide. Hand function is considerably impaired when the thumb base is affected, including difficulty with opening jars, fastening buttons, writing and pinching. Despite its impact, there are no specific recommendations regarding the best treatment for thumb base OA. This study aims to determine the effect of a combination of therapies, namely, education on self-management and joint protection, splint, hand exercises and topical anti- inflammatory, compared to education on self-management and joint protection alone for people with thumb base OA.

  2. The functions of PAR1 and PAR2 during the onset and development of infection-related rheumatoid arthritis in a mouse model.

- Dr Meilang Xue

Arthritis is the major cause of disability and chronic pain in Australia, and rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is one of the most damaging forms, with about 30 % of patients unable to work after 3 years of disease. Proteinase activated receptor (PAR)1 and 2 are the members of G-coupled receptors. Although strongly implicated in joint inflammation and destruction, the exact functions of PAR1 and PAR2 in RA are still unclear. This study will use PAR1 and PAR2 gene knockout (KO) mice and collagen- induced arthritis (CIA), a widely recognised as the ‘gold standard’ experimental model for investigation of RA, to address the role of PAR1 and PAR2 in RA.

  3. A quantitative atlas of three-dimensional architecture of human forearm and hand muscles in vivo.

- Dr Bart Bolsterlee

Current understanding of forearm and hand muscle function is largely based on anatomical measurements from human cadaver muscles of elderly people. Through new imaging techniques it is now possible to measure muscle structure in living humans with unprecedented levels of detail. In this project, a quantitative atlas will be made of the three- dimensional architecture of hand and forearm muscles in living humans. The atlas will provide the most detailed description of hand and forearm muscle architecture to date. These data will generate fundamental insights into the function of hand and forearm muscles, and could be used to inform surgical decisions.

The Lincoln Centre has funded the projects of Ferriera de Meneses ($46,662) and Xue ($26,900) and Bosterlee ($22,596).

Successful 2015 Research Applications for funding in 2016

Three grants were awarded in 2015 to support the following projects:

  1.Effect of Metformin on palmar fascia cells from patients with Dupuytren’s contracture.

- Dr Margaret Smith

Dupuytren's contracture (DC) is a disabling condition where tissue in the palm of the hand thickens and stiffens, causing the adjacent fingers to curl and lose function. The cells (myofibroblasts) causing the contracture have been stopped in other similar diseases (such as in lung and heart fibrosis) by a commonly-prescribed, glucose-lowering drug, metformin. We propose here to test whether metformin can normalise the molecular biology and behaviour in cells from abnormal tissue of DC patients (removed from the palms as part of their already planned surgery (fasciectomy) to release the contracture of their fingers). If metformin proves to beneficially modify the cells that drive DC, this may provide a new therapeutic approach in this disease.

  2.What causes thrombotic complications in rheumatoid arthritis?

- Dr Helena Liang

Arthritis is the major cause of disability and chronic pain in Australia. The common clinical symptoms of Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) include pain, swelling, stiffness and deformity of the hand and foot joints. In addition RA patients are known to be two times more likely to develop cardiovascular disease and venous thrombosis, but the reason for thrombotic complications in these patients remains unclear. This study addresses thrombosis and the role of an endogenous anticoagulant, which has a novel therapeutic potential in RA.

  3.Effects of localised compressive loading on tendon health.

- Dr Elizabeth Clarke

Tendons connect muscles to bones, allowing movement of the joints. Damaged or diseased tendons can cause chronic pain, disability and weakening that can lead to rupture. Normal tensile loading is important for maintaining tendon health but some tendons may experience localised compression that could lead to tendon disease. Localised compression of tendons may occur near fracture fixation implants, at sites of inflammation or during abnormal joint motion. This study uses controlled mechanical loading of tendons to determine the effects of localised compression on tendon health. This understanding may provide insight to the mechanisms of some common tendon diseases and could guide therapies to prevent or treat them.

The Lincoln Centre has funded the projects of Smith ($26,982) and Liang ($30,000) and Clarke ($28,087).

Successful 2014 Research Applications for funding in 2015

Three grants were awarded in 2014 to support the following projects:

  1.Effects of mechanical loads on tendon health and tendon type

- Dr Elizabeth Clarke

Tendons connect muscles to bones, allowing movement of the joints. Damaged tendons (also “tendinopathy” or “tendonitis”) can cause chronic pain, disability and weakening that can lead to rupture, and this is particularly common in the hand. Load bearing tendons (flexors) and positional tendons (extensors) vary in their configuration and loads typically experienced. This study investigates whether different types of tendons respond biologically and mechanically in the same way to a range of loading intensities, using a “cell culture” model for 3 weeks. Differences in response to load for different tendons may affect physical therapy to prevent or treat tendinopathy.

  2. CROSSFIRE: Combined Randomised and Observational Study of Surgery for Fractures In the distal Radius in the Elderly

- Prof. Ian Harris

Fractures of the distal radius (also called wrist fractures) are the most common type of fracture seen. Currently, standard treatment involves treating these with surgery using a plate and screws despite high quality evidence that this does not provide a significant benefit over alternative treatments, including non-operative treatment. We aim to perform a high quality study comparing plate fixation to non-operative treatment in a plaster cast. By providing high quality evidence and involving surgeons in Australia, we aim to strengthen the evidence base around this common condition in order to guide future treatment, potentially improving outcomes and saving valuable resources.

  3. Can the combination therapy of APC and anti-sPLA2V yield a novel treatment for rheumatoid arthritis? A cellular approach.

- Dr. Meilang Xue

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a chronic inflammatory disorder that typically affects the small joints in hands and feet. In RA, the joint lining layer swells, invades and destroys surrounding tissues, and eventually result in bone erosion and joint deformity. The major cells accounting for RA joint swelling and damage are rheumatoid synoviocytes (RASF) within the joint. Activated protein C (APC) is a natural anti-clotting agent with strong anti-inflammatory properties. We have found that APC can suppress the inflammation and destructive properties of RASF. However, our recent data showed that an enzyme, known as group V secretory phospholipase A2 (sPLA2V), inhibited APC-mediated anti- inflammatory effects in RASF. This project will investigate whether addition of a sPLA2V inhibitor can increase the efficacy of APC in the inhibition of destructive properties of RASF, thus preventing or limiting bone and cartilage destruction within the RA joint in vitro.

The Lincoln Centre has funded the projects of Clarke ($17,881) and Harris ($40,000) and Xue ($36,310).

Successful 2013 Research Applications for funding in 2014

Three grants were awarded in July 2013 to support the following projects:

1. The diabetic hand: understanding the mechanisms of tendinopathy  

- M Smith, Raymond Purves Research Laboratories, Kolling Institute, University of Sydney

Tendon disease (tendinopathy) has a greater incidence in hands of diabetic patients than in healthy people. The mechanisms that drive this change are presently unknown, and as a result specific therapies are lacking. We will examine changes in tendon in diabetic and non-diabetic mice, and established tendon culture models, to determine how elevated glucose alters the structure of tendon and the role of the tendon cells in this process. The results from this work will aid in the development of treatments with improved outcomes for this crippling condition.

 

  2. In vivo ultrasound assessment of the effect of flexor synovectomy on median nerve and flexor tendon motion within the carpal tunnel

- AJ Beard, Department of Hand Surgery, Royal North Shore Hospital

This study will investigate the effect of open carpal tunnel release +/- synovectomy on the motion of the median nerve. Patients presenting with carpal tunnel syndrome will undergo pre-operative ultrasound imaging of the median nerve and flexor tendons with the wrist in extension, neutral and flexion. The position of the median nerve and flexor tendons will be recorded in these positions with and without stress (gripping). Patients will then be randomised to undergo an open carpal tunnel release or an open carpal tunnel release with synovectomy. Post-operative ultrasound assessment of median nerve and flexor tendon motion will be performed at 5 weeks and 6 months.

 

  3. Can activated protein C reverse the aggressive properties of rheumatoid synoviocytes?

- M Xue, Sutton Arthritis Research Laboratories, Kolling Institute, University of Sydney

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a chronic inflammatory disorder that typically affects the small joints in hands and feet. In RA, the joint lining swells, invades and destroys surrounding tissues, and eventually result in bone erosion and joint deformity. The major cells accounting for RA joint swelling and damage are rheumatoid synoviocytes (RASF). RASF are not only responsible for joint destruction but also sustain the inflammation in RA. Reversing the damaging phenotype of RASF is a potential option for RA treatment. Activated protein C (APC) has strong anti-inflammatory properties. This project will investigate whether APC can inhibit the aggressive properties of RASF thus preventing or limiting bone and cartilage destruction within the RA joint.

 

The Lincoln Centre has fully funded the projects of Smith ($39,311) and Beard ($39,551) and partially funded that of Xue ($21,138).

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