Illinois Tech Researcher Part of International Team That Has Uncovered Building Block of Human Bone

New Article in Nature Communications that Reveals New Collagen Structure Fundamental to the Understanding of Bone Regeneration Features Analysis from Professor Joseph Orgel

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Chicago, IL — October 8,  2020 — Researchers at Illinois Institute of Technology (Illinois Tech) have partnered with an international team of scientists to uncover the fundamental structure for the development of bone, a long sought-after question of human biology. The study authors from the University of Leeds and Radboud Institute for Molecular Life Sciences tapped Illinois Tech Professor of Biology and Biomedical Engineering Joseph Orgel to conduct an in-depth analysis as a part of an international collaborative team that today published a groundbreaking study in the peer-reviewed journal Nature Communications


The article, titled “Intermolecular Channels Direct Crystal Orientation in Mineralized Collagen,” presents a new bedrock understanding of how bones are formed, potentially ushering in a new era of artificial bone growth as a clinical medical treatment. The study’s authors found channels within the molecular organization of collagen, formed from the structure of the molecules, that enable bone mineral to form.


“This has long been considered one of the most pressing questions in structural biology, and I was thrilled to be a part of such an exciting collaborative effort to unearth these findings,” said Orgel, who also serves as the deputy vice provost for strategic initiatives and student success at Illinois Tech. “Mapping out exactly ‘what makes bone’ is the first step in being able to grow and regenerate bone in a clinical setting. Equipped with this new fundamental understanding, the implications on the lives of medical patients around the world could be immense.”


This research represents the most in-depth understanding of the complex composition of bone to date, and in doing so, promises to unlock the exceptional mechanical properties that result from this collagen structure and the mineral that forms within it.


Orgel’s previous research at Illinois Tech is focused on fundamental structural biochemistry problems that have direct links to the understanding and treatment of disease. Using unique techniques, he has worked to visualize the molecular organization of collagenous and neurological tissues to a resolution of less than one billionth of a meter. Orgel has conducted investigations of brain pathological diseases such as Alzheimer’s and traumatic brain injury in collaboration with the United States Army, and studies connective tissue conditions, including heart disease and arthritis, at a National Institutes of Health Biotechnology Research Resource, the Biophysics Collaborative Access Team (BioCAT), as associate director. 


“Professor Orgel’s involvement in this international effort of leading scientists encapsulates Illinois Tech’s commitment to collaborating on some of the most exciting developments in science and technology from right here on the South Side of Chicago,” said Peter Kilpatrick, Illinois Tech’s provost. “We applaud Joseph and the rest of this global research team for these outstanding findings.”

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