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Grant allows MU professor to study how temperature effects bone growth

The Parthenon

Published: Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Updated: Wednesday, November 14, 2012 01:11

A grant received three years ago by the College of Science at Marshall University is continuing to benefit students and the community. Maria Serratt, assistant professor of anatomy, is using a multi-photon microscope to study how temperature effects bone growth.

“Studies have shown that by heating the limb you can actually increase growth, but we don’t really know how that happens, so my hypothesis is that the heat is just causing more blood to be delivered to the bone so you’re getting more blood there and you’re getting more out of the vessels and into the cartilage,” Serratt said.

The multi-photon microscope has been customized to allow Serratt to look at the bone of a mouse while it is still alive while simultaneously heating the limb. The mouse is fully anesthetized during the process.

“What I’m trying to see is how just changing the temperature can impact or increase the amount of blood that’s delivered to the bone because the idea is if we’re trying to come up with strategies to say, target drug delivery to growth plates of children that have growth impediments or any sort of disease and we want to target a drug there,” Serratt said.

The grant received allowed Serratt to work with other professors in the department to completely customize the microscope to allow for live animal imaging.

“I was able to work with professors at Cornell University, where I learned this technique,” Serratt said. “This multi-photon microscope was invented by investigators at Cornell a couple of decades ago and so they were really pioneers and they really continue to push the envelope in terms of the new technologies they do, so I was able to work with some of them to create a system that would let me do the same thing here.”

While the research is in the preliminary stages right now, getting to this point has been Serratt’s focus since she began teaching at Marshall three years ago.

“We found out during my first year here that the grant was approved for purchasing the microscope, so it was in my second year that I built up the system and my third year that I worked to collect the data,” Serratt said. “It’s been a long road but I’m excited for where we’re at and hopefully we’ll continue to move forward.” Many of Serratt’s students are going into the medical field, so she has made sure to include others in the research she has taken on.

“We’re very much in the idea phase right now, that’s why I’ve been working with some people in orthopedics to get some work together. What we’ll be trying to do is take what I’m learning here using mice to see if we have enough information to see if we could, maybe three years down the road, run a little clinical trial to see if we could help improve growth in children,” Serratt said. “Heating the limb or joint is a really simple treatment you can do non invasively in a child and that’s where we’re heading, by using this non invasive heat treatment by heating the joint of a growing child that might be either injured or affected by some sort of disease we want to see if we can use temperature as a therapeutic strategy to increase drug delivery and increase blood flow and volume.”

Serratt said while this may seem like a simple idea, it is a simple idea that has been ignored in research for a really long time.

Elizabeth Stewart can be contacted at


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