Kotha Receives CAREER Award

KOTHA PHOTODr. Shiva Kotha, assistant professor of Mechanical Engineering, has won a coveted five-year, $430,000 NSF Early Career Development (CAREER) Award that will support his research focusing on strategies for improving the body’s ability to repair damaged bone. Dr. Kotha, who is also affiliated with the Biomedical Engineering (BME) Program, is the 22nd UConn engineering faculty member to receive the CAREER Award.

Dr. Kotha is particularly interested in exploring the effects of three distinct mechanisms: (a) changes in whole bone structure by a process termed modeling, (b) replacement of damaged tissue with newly formed intact tissue by a process termed remodeling, and (c) repair by osteocytes, which are cells embedded in the bone that may play a role in coordinating the skeleton’s adaptive responses. He hypothesizes that these three mechanisms improve the mechanical properties of damaged bone at varying scales and over progressively longer periods.

To test his hypothesis, Dr. Kotha will damage animal bone using mechanical loading techniques and then monitor the repair process. He explained that “On bones excised at different days after damage, I will use the synchrotron computed tomography (CT) equipment at Argonne National Labs to obtain X-ray computed tomography images with and without load. This will allow us to determine strains in bone and to ascribe the role of damage repair mechanisms.”

Dr. Kotha explained that his research team will employ an image correlation technique originally developed for the conversion of two-dimensional images into 3D representations to determine mechanical strains within bone. This particular application is unique and will underlie his development of analytical and computational models, which he will validate experimentally to analyze the relative importance of the three distinct repair mechanisms. He hopes to derive a fundamental understanding of the hierarchies of bone repair at different length- and time-scales with the objective of providing another cellular repair mechanism that can be targeted by pharmaceuticals to reduce fracture risk.

This work builds upon his previous research targeting osteoporosis, which afflicts 75 million people worldwide. The focus of one investigation involved the determination of the optimal dosage of a pharmacological agent, the salt lithium chloride, which interacts synergistically with mechanical loading to activate bone formation at sites of peak mechanical stresses. Dr. Kotha noted that failure to enhance bone formation at these sites can result in bone fractures. The research is important in building an insightful foundation for regulation of bone mass by mechanical loading and in evaluating molecular pathways to reduce fracture risk.

As an important facet of this novel research effort, Dr. Kotha will develop new coursework for not only undergraduate biomedical engineering students but also K-12 students and high school teachers.

Before joining UConn, Dr. Kotha was an assistant professor in the School of Dentistry at the University of Missouri — Kansas City. He earned his Ph.D. in biomedical engineering from Rutgers University and the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey in 2000. He performed post-doctoral research in aerospace/mechanical engineering at the University of Notre Dame, and in orthopaedic surgery at Washington University of St. Louis, MO.