Neurosurgery research at Penn medicine covers all of the key topics in the neurosciences from basic science research to clinical trials. The department is home to a rich number of laboratories focusing on issues including spinal biomechanics, neurotrauma, neurodegenerative disorders, brain tumors and traumatic brain injury.

Chen Neural Repair Laboratory

H. Isaac Chen MD is interested in developing novel methods for restoring brain circuitry after injury. His lab combines principles from stem cell biology, neural tissue engineering, and neural interface technologies to generate complex neural tissues. The lab also examines how this tissue integrates with brain networks following transplantation.

Translational Neuromodulation Laboratory

The Translational Neuromodulation Laboratory develops implantable brain-computer interface devices to bypass or augment damaged neural connections as a treatment for paralysis. It also examines decoding strategies for electrocorticography in human BCI applications.

O'Rourke Neuro–oncology Laboratory

Neuro-Oncology research on a host of topics is being conducted by several of Penn Neurosurgery faculty. Donald O'Rourke, MD, is interested in the cell and molecular biology of EGFR family receptor tyrosine kinases, a major target in glioblastoma. Dr. O'Rourke's lab is focused on targeted and immunotherapy approaches to glioblastoma.  He also serves as the Director of the Human Brain Tumor Tissue Bank, which provides tumor tissue to researchers for the purpose of advancing neuro-oncology research. The Harvest website is a platform for researchers to access the de-identified inventory of specimens linked to clinical data. 

Smith Neurotrauma Laboratory

The Smith Neurotrauma Laboratory’s main research focus centers on the study of the mechanisms and progressive degenerative damage that occurs with brain trauma. Specific concentration is paid to the nerve fibers in the brain, or axons, which are vulnerable to trauma.

Sharpe Spine Biomechanics Laboratory

The Sharpe Spine Biomechanics Laboratory, headed by William C. Welch, MD, FACS, FICS, neurosurgery, and Beth Winkelstein, PhD, bioengineering, is a joint facility that enables collaborative bioengineering research between bioengineers and neurosurgery residents.

Investigations at the laboratory focus on the biomechanics of the spine in various injury and treatment conditions. Studies on the kinematics and kinetics of all regions of the spine provide a mechanical context for parallel nociceptive studies in the Spine Pain Research Lab.

From a clinical perspective, the spine biomechanics laboratory’s resources provide an opportunity to investigate the effect of new medical devices and/or procedures on the mechanical behavior of the spine.

Located at Pennsylvania Hospital, the lab grants interested researchers access to medical equipment, including a C-arm for 3D fluoroscopy, as well as clinical expertise.

The team welcomes active collaboration between bioengineering researchers (undergraduate, graduate and postdoctoral), neurosurgery residents and faculty, and interested outside parties who want to perform biomechanical studies focused on the spine.

The 700-square-foot spine biomechanics lab is equipped with:

  • Walk-in freezer (-20°C, Hotpak)
  • Designated cadaveric specimen preparation space and surgical tools
  • Peak Motus 3D Optical Capture system for 3D kinematic analysis at 120Hz (Vicon)
  • NTSC camera for synchronized video imaging at 60Hz (Sony)
  • 8-channel signal conditioners (OM2-8608 backplane) and 16-signal conditioning cards (OM2-162 bridgesensor, Omega Engineering)
  • Electronic pressure regulators (Model ER1, Wilkerson)
  • Miniature pressure transducers (Model XCEL-100-50PSIA, Kulite)
  • Traditional mechanical testing system (Mini Bionix 370_FT60, MTS)
  • 370.02 Servohydraulic Load Frame with a testing space of 460 mm x 1412 mm (18.1 in x 55.6 in)
    • Axial actuator, 15 kN Force Rating / 100 mm Dynamic Stroke (3.3 Kip / 4 in) 
    • Torsional actuator,100 N-m Torque (1000 in-lbs) 
    • MTS 662.20 Series Axial/Torsional Load Cell (15 kN / 150 Nm) 
    • FlexTest 60 Controller 2 Channel, 1 Station with 8 channels for auxiliary analog inputs 
    • Spine sub-system with 6 DOF force transducer
      • Rotary actuator for flexion/extension +/-45 degrees
      • Rotary actuator for lateral bend +/- 45 degrees
      • 6 DOF force transducer: Fx,Fy=580N, Fz=1160, Mx, My, Mz=20Nm
  • A variety of customized fixtures, grips, and platens are available:
    • A custom-built swinging cradle
    • A custom-built passive XY table 3-point bending fixtures
    • A custom-built moment test frame with a 6-axis load cell (Robert A. Denton Inc.)
  • One high-speed, high-resolution Phantom digital video camera (Model Miro eX1, Vision Research)

Resnick and Storm Laboratories

The Resnick and Storm Laboratories at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia focus on defining the molecular mechanisms underlying pediatric brain tumors. Their research studies the characterization of the genetic abnormalities defining pediatric tumors, the development of model systems recapitulating the disease process and cell signaling alterations, and ultimately on defining and testing targeted therapies.

Siman Laboratory

The Siman laboratory studies mechanisms and markers for neurodegenerative disorders. The laboratory developed an antibody-based technology known as protease fingerprinting for measuring activation of specific proteases associated with cell death signaling. This technology led to the identification of biomarkers that are measurably increased in cerebrospinal fluid and blood following brain injury in both experimental animals and human patients, and indicate the magnitude of the brain damage, the underlying signaling mechanisms involved, and the efficacy of candidate neuroprotective treatment regimens. By developing a panel of markers for neurodegeneration and immunoassays for their simple yet highly sensitive quantitation, we aim to impact the diagnosis, prognosis, and treatment of acute and chronic brain damage in numerous clinical settings.

Cullen Neural Engineering, Neurotrauma, and Regenerative Medicine Laboratory

The mission of the Cullen Lab is to develop cutting-edge bioengineering strategies to restore neurological function following neurotrauma or neurodegenerative disease. The Cullen Lab has pioneered tissue engineered “living scaffolds” to promote neural regeneration, micro-tissue engineering to restore brain circuitry, and living biological electrodes for brain-machine interface and neuromodulation. To complement these efforts, the Cullen Lab is also working to improve our understanding of traumatic brain injury, with emphasis on injury biomechanics, neuronal biophysical responses, and neurodegenerative pathways.

Translational Spine Research Laboratory

The focus of the Translational Spine Research Laboratory is the pathophysiology and treatment of degenerative and developmental disorders affecting the spine, particularly those affecting the intervertebral discs and vertebral bones. Dr. Lachlan Smith and Dr. Neil Malhotra use cutting edge techniques in molecular biology, biochemistry and bioengineering, coupled with novel in vitro model systems to study disease mechanisms. This research in the translational space bridges the fields of tissue engineering, biomaterials, drug delivery and stem cells, and is focused on arresting disease progression, restoring spine function and potentiating long term tissue regeneration.

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