Wagoner Johnson aims to improve scaffold design for bone regeneration


Julia Stackler

MechSE Associate Professor Amy Wagoner Johnson was recently awarded a grant from the National Science Foundation to further her leading-edge research on synthetic bone scaffolds.

Amy Wagoner Johnson
Amy Wagoner Johnson
Under her project, “Collaborative Research: Bone Adaptation-Driven Design of Scaffolds with Spatially-Varying Architecture for Enhanced Growth,” Wagoner Johnson aims to formulate and validate the first computational framework for the design of patient-specific scaffolds with spatially varying architecture, that also takes into account the future bone regeneration within the scaffold. One of the biggest challenges in bone repair using porous scaffolds is complete integration of bone into the scaffold, or osteointegration. Wagoner Johnson will use a novel approach to enhancing osteointegration.

Many current approaches for scaffold design focus on periodic scaffolds and do not take into account the spatially varying architecture or the bone growth that will take place in the scaffold over time. The approach used here will incorporate the bone adaptation and ingrowth during healing within a scaffold with spatially varying architecture, as well as manufacturing constraints imposed by the current scaffold fabricate technique—direct ink writing—in which filaments of the material are deposited in alternating layers, with space in between to create porosity. The work is expected to result in computation design and validation of scaffolds with better osteointegration and can be readily manufactured with established techniques.

Wagoner Johnson will work to develop a framework that models bone adaptation within the bone-scaffold system and accommodates changes in the design, and she hopes to design a scaffold architecture that is locally controllable while remaining manufacturable.

Her work under this grant will advance the design methodology of material systems whose structures may change while in use, such as architected porous surfaces in orthopedic implants, scaffolds for tissue regeneration, particulate filters, and self-healing materials. Results of her research have the potential to substantially increase the clinical viability of synthetic scaffolds for large defect repair, with significant improvement in treatment for patients.

Heidi Phillips, a professor at the University of Illinois Veterinary Teaching Hospital, is a co-principal investigator. Wagoner Johnson will lead the experimental effort while Julian Norato, MechSE alumnus (PhD '05) and current assistant professor in mechanical engineering at the University of Connecticut, will lead the computational efforts on this collaborative NSF grant.

Wagoner Johnson’s related outreach will include a summer research exchange for undergraduate and graduate students as well as educational activities for high school students attending MechSE’s summer camps. She is collaborating with the graduate student-led outreach organization ENVISION (ENgineers Volunteering in STEM EducatION) on these efforts.