News Release
A close-up photo of an ankle. A physician applies pressure to the tendon

PHILADELPHIA— At present, Achilles tendon injuries have few options for remedy beyond intensive physical therapy and surgeries. Even then, recovery is not guaranteed and can differ significantly by person. But with the help of a new five-year grant totaling almost $8 million from the National Institutes of Health/National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases, faculty in the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania are launching the Penn Achilles Tendinopathy Center of Research Translation (PAT-CORT). The center’s driving goal is to discover more consistent and less intense options for treating and even preventing these types of injuries from occurring. 

“Despite the high frequency and increasing prevalence of tendon injuries in young and old patients, effective treatment methods have stagnated over the last two decades,” said Louis J. Soslowsky, PhD, Fairhill Professor of Orthopaedic Surgery, vice chair of Orthopaedic Research at Penn, and the founding director of PAT-CORT. “We believe that this stasis is due to the lack of fundamental understanding of tendon disease causes and progression, which limits development of novel treatments. Our goal is to develop new insight and technologies that uncover the mechanobiologic basis of Achilles injuries across many environments, ranging from the nucleus, to the cell, to the tissue microenvironment, and, finally, to patients as a whole.”

Soslowsky will be joined in leading the new center by Robert Mauck, PhD, Ralston Professor of Orthopaedic Surgery and director of Penn’s McKay Orthopaedic Research Laboratory, and Casey Humbyrd, MD, an associate professor of Orthopaedic Surgery and Medical Ethics and Health Policy, and the chief of the Foot and Ankle division at Penn.

Instead of patients having to rehab or settle in for surgeries that take months of recovery, Soslowsky and his team hope that they can make discoveries about how and why the Achilles tendon breaks down that allow for the development of therapeutic targets or rehabilitation strategies that strengthen or rebuild the Achilles tendon.

Several projects are already slated for the center:

  • One that will explore the relationship between the remodeling of chromatin — the material that makes up chromosomes — and how cells in tendons operate, led by Su Chin Heo, PhD, an assistant professor of Orthopaedic Surgery, and Melike Lakadamyali, PhD, an associate professor of Physiology.
  • Another to study how the microenvironment outside of tendon cells is influenced by the transfer of information through the protein structure that gives cells their shape, led by Nathaniel Dyment, PhD, and Joel Boerckel, PhD, assistant professors of Orthopaedic Surgery.

Work to provide cells and tissue in various stages of disease progression for the projects will be led by Josh R. Baxter, PhD, an assistant professor of Orthopaedic Surgery and director of the Human Motion Laboratory, and Daniel Farber, MD, an associate professor of Clinical Orthopaedic Surgery.

“Ultimately, this work will better define the mechanisms of action of current rehabilitative regimens and provide new insight to guide small molecule and biologic treatments that improve the efficacy of Achilles tendinopathy treatment,” said Soslowsky.

Penn Medicine is one of the world’s leading academic medical centers, dedicated to the related missions of medical education, biomedical research, and excellence in patient care. Penn Medicine consists of the Raymond and Ruth Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania (founded in 1765 as the nation’s first medical school) and the University of Pennsylvania Health System, which together form a $9.9 billion enterprise.

The Perelman School of Medicine has been ranked among the top medical schools in the United States for more than 20 years, according to U.S. News & World Report's survey of research-oriented medical schools. The School is consistently among the nation's top recipients of funding from the National Institutes of Health, with $546 million awarded in the 2021 fiscal year.

The University of Pennsylvania Health System’s patient care facilities include: the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania and Penn Presbyterian Medical Center—which are recognized as one of the nation’s top “Honor Roll” hospitals by U.S. News & World Report—Chester County Hospital; Lancaster General Health; Penn Medicine Princeton Health; and Pennsylvania Hospital, the nation’s first hospital, founded in 1751. Additional facilities and enterprises include Good Shepherd Penn Partners, Penn Medicine at Home, Lancaster Behavioral Health Hospital, and Princeton House Behavioral Health, among others.

Penn Medicine is powered by a talented and dedicated workforce of more than 47,000 people. The organization also has alliances with top community health systems across both Southeastern Pennsylvania and Southern New Jersey, creating more options for patients no matter where they live.

Penn Medicine is committed to improving lives and health through a variety of community-based programs and activities. In fiscal year 2021, Penn Medicine provided more than $619 million to benefit our community.

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