Palo Alto Researcher Receives the Kappa Delta Elizabeth Winston Lanier Award
By Michael Hill-Jackson
VA Palo Alto Health Care System (VAPAHCS) researcher Constance R. Chu, MD, has received the Kappa Delta Elizabeth Winston Lanier Award during the 2019 Annual Meeting of the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons in Las Vegas, Nevada. The Kappa Delta awards are the highest honor in Orthopedic Surgery and presented by the Academy to persons who have performed research in orthopedic surgery that is of high significance and impact.
“Given our aging population of Veterans, Dr. Chu’s work is crucial to the rehabilitation services we provide to our Veterans,” said VAPAHCS Director Thomas J. Fitzgerald. “We are proud to have pioneers like her who push boundaries and join the ranks of those changing medicine around the world.”
“It’s an honor to receive this award and have our team recognized for all their hard work,” said Dr. Chu. "We look forward to conducting more studies that will advance osteoarthritis prevention."
A 2013 Centers for Disease Control study estimates that one in four Veterans (25.6%) have arthritis, which is more prevalent among Veterans than non-Veterans in all socio-demographic categories.
The award recognizes nearly two decades of research conducted by Dr. Chu and her team on osteoarthritis (OA). The team studied four imaging techniques to identify cartilage and joint abnormalities after joint injury. Using a new MRI technique, they most recently developed the concept of “pre-osteoarthritis,” making way for OA preventative medicine.
One non-invasive imaging technique called MRI UTE-T2 (Magnetic Resonance Imaging, Ultrashort Echo Time) was found to be the missing component to their goal of visualizing “pre-OA." This technique allowed Dr. Chu’s team to make several findings, including:
healing of subsurface cartilage damage in more than half of patients by two years after ACL surgery
identification of cartilage abnormalities before the surface breaks down can possibly recover with therapeutic interventions
the discovery of biomarkers that help to characterize a pre-osteoarthritis joint
“Being able to see “pre-osteoarthritis” using MRI UTE-T2 has allowed us to progress preventive treatment strategies from the laboratory into clinical trials,” said Dr. Chu. “Moving forward, we will employ this imaging technique in our clinical trials to study biologics, gene therapy and gait retraining to treat joints early after ACL and joint injuries to help thwart osteoarthritis.”
The Kappa Delta award was a reinforcement of their success as it follows a $10 million grant funded by the Department of Defense in late 2018 for their study “Novel Strategies to Prevent Post-traumatic Osteoarthritis.” The grant includes three clinical trials, gene therapy, and induced pluripotent stem cell work.
In addition, her team is conducting a $1 million VA-funded clinical trial called “Precision Assessment of Platelet Rich Plasma for Joint Restoration” to see whether PRP helps Veterans with wear and tear to the knees.
Dr. Chu’s research is one of many research studies that make VA Palo Alto one of the top three largest research programs in VA, boasting programs such as the Center for Innovation to Implementation (Ci2i), the Health Economics Resource Center (HERC), and the Mental Illness Research Education and Clinical Center (MIRECC).
Dr. Chu serves as director of the Joint Preservation Center and chief of Sports Medicine at the VA Palo Alto Health Care System. She is also Professor and Vice Chair, Research, in the Department of Orthopedic Surgery at Stanford University. She graduated from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point and earned her medical degree from Harvard Medical School.
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