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Lake awarded $325k NSF grant

Rotator cuff and Achilles tendon injuries can sideline anyone — from professional athletes to weekend warriors. Recently funded research at Washington University in St. Louis will take a multi-scale peek at the forces at work in tendons, with the hope to someday better manage injuries and offer more effective prevention strategies.

Spencer Lake

Spencer Lake, assistant professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering & Materials Science in the School of Engineering & Applied Science, will use a $325,000 National Science Foundation grant to run experiments on two specific linking materials present in tendon that were recently identified to play a significant role in motion and health: collagen crosslinks and elastic fibers.

Tendons are loaded in the body, and take on mechanical force during physical activity. Less clear is how that mechanical force travels down hierarchical length scales and is absorbed at the cellular level. Using biomechanical testing combined with two-photon microscopy and polarized light imaging, Lake and his team will study how collagen crosslinks and elastic fibers contribute to fundamental mechanical mechanisms in healthy tendons, and compare those to what happens in disrupted tissues.

The grant will also fund computational modeling used to better understand how collagen crosslinks and elastic fibers are involved in force transfer at a cellular level. The researchers will examine Achilles tendons and tendons taken from the rotator cuff, representing two of the most common tendon injuries.


The School of Engineering & Applied Science at Washington University in St. Louis focuses intellectual efforts through a new convergence paradigm and builds on strengths, particularly as applied to medicine and health, energy and environment, entrepreneurship and security. With 88 tenured/tenure-track and 40 additional full-time faculty, 1,300 undergraduate students, more than 900 graduate students and more than 23,000 alumni, we are working to leverage our partnerships with academic and industry partners — across disciplines and across the world — to contribute to solving the greatest global challenges of the 21st century.

Improving Medicine & Health

"We hope that by better understanding the components in tendon that are responsible for force transfer across length scales, we will obtain a deeper appreciation of tendon mechanics that will enable better strategies for prevention and treatment of tendon injuries."