Dr. Christi Kern's lab is interested in the extracellular matrix i.e. the proteins and molecules that make up the environment in which cells reside. The focus of the lab is on proteoglycans, not only how they contribute to the biomaterial properties of the tissues but also their role in signaling that impacts cell behavior and phenotype. Since the extracellular matrix architecture is a reflection of the biomechanical forces that the tissues endure, the majority of their research uses in vivo models in combination with ex-vivo assays. The goal is to uncover novel molecular mechanisms that involve proteoglycan turnover that are critical for development and dysregulated in disease.
The work has focused on the ADAMTS family of proteases that cleave large proteoglycans. The activity of these proteases is associated with degradation of cartilage that leads to disease. However, the laboratory has determined that ADAMTS5 and ADAMTS9 are critical for cardiovascular development and potentially homeostasis. Therefore, a major focus of the laboratory is to investigate the requirement of these proteases for the formation of the cardiac valves and arterial tissues of the ascending aorta and pulmonary arteries.
Recently the Kern lab, in collaboration with Dr. Hai Yao, has begun investigating the fibrocartilage of the temporomandibular joint. We are specifically interested in determining how proteoglycan turnover impacts joint development and defining the physiological roles for ADAMTS proteases. The temporomandibular joint is comprised of fibrocartilage, which is relatively understudied compared to hyaline cartilage found in knee joints. The Kern lab's approach to regenerative medicine therapies is through developmental biology; in ongoing temporomandibular joint research the Kern lab examines the molecular mechanisms required to establish fibrocartilage and investigate how changes in mechanical load impacts extracellular matrix turnover and cell signaling.
"One of the most rewarding aspects of my scientific career is providing opportunities in my laboratory to students to explore their scientific interest, potential and to gain professional life experience. In addition to the graduate student and postdoc in my lab I mentor undergraduates in the summer Student Undergraduate Research Program (SURP) and College of Charleston Students for independent study and bachelors essay research projects. In addition, I also interview and facilitates placements of students in other MUSC basic science laboratories. If you are interested in undergraduate research, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org."