Lake granted NIH funds to study elbow stiffness

After an injury to the elbow joint, patients often experience painful stiffness and dysfunction, leading to loss of motion and disability.

Spencer Lake

Spencer Lake, assistant professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering & Materials Science at Washington University in St. Louis, will take a close look at the role of soft tissues and bone in the elbow to determine a cause of this condition with a three-year, $228,750 grant from the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases of the National Institutes of Health.

While a common cause of pain and disability after an elbow injury, researchers are not clear how post-traumatic joint stiffness occurs, and therefore have few options to treat it. For his new research, Lake, a biomechanical engineer in the School of Engineering & Applied Science, developed a rat model of post-traumatic joint stiffness in the elbow that closely mimics the condition in humans. He will study the ligaments, muscle, tendon, cartilage and bone to determine which show altered mechanics then determine what changes accompany those differences. In addition, he will look at improvements in the soft tissues and bone after the joint recovers function and how those improvements correlate with restoration of movement. Finally, he will look at changes in the tissues that lead to the development and progression of post-traumatic joint stiffness.

"Ultimately, we expect these results to provide insight toward developing better prevention and treatment methods that directly target these tissues and bone in the elbow joint," Lake says. "In addition, we believe the results will also allow future study of other conditions in the elbow, such as arthritis and instability."

Lake also has a nearly $20,000 grant from the American Shoulder and Elbow Surgeons to study post-traumatic joint stiffness.

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.