Walter’s NSF CAREER award will help advance treatment for low back pain

Posted: July 13, 2022

 

Ben Walter in Lab
Dr. Benjamin Walter, Assistant Professor

Benjamin Walter, assistant professor of biomedical engineering and orthopaedics, has earned a $630,748 Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) award from the National Science Foundation for his research in multiscale mechanobiology.

The CAREER award is the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) most prestigious recognition of junior faculty who exemplify the role of teacher-scholars through outstanding research, excellent education and the integration of both. Walter’s project is funded by NSF’s Biomechanics and Mechanobiology program.

His project will focus on how mechanical loads applied to the spine regulate cellular function in health and disease. The long-term goal of his work is to better understand the disease process within the spine and inform potential treatments for low back pain.

Mechanical loading plays in important role in regulating the strength and health of many orthopaedic tissues, such as bone, muscles and cartilage, according to Walter.

“This is highlighted by the well-known ability of muscles to respond to your degree of physical activity by either increasing or decreasing their mass,” he explained. “However, this adaptation occurs to different degrees in all orthopaedic tissues and is mediated by the cells within the tissue which sense and respond to the mechanical signals.”

He noted that the tissue’s ability to respond to mechanical loading may contribute to disease progression through altering the balance of tissue formation and breakdown. The mechanical signals the cells experience change as the tissue breaks down and influences the cells’ ability to maintain the tissue.

“This award focuses on answering fundamental questions regarding the range of mechanical signals the cells experience within the tissue and how those signals are sensed,” said Walter. “This study will help understand how changes in solute concentration as the tissue is deformed regulates how cells behave in health and disease.”

The educational component of Walter’s project aims to broaden participation of students traditionally underrepresented in engineering. He aims to achieve this by developing mutually beneficial partnerships with minority serving institutions and bringing undergraduates into the research lab by partnering with the NSF Research Experiences for Undergraduates site hosted at The Ohio State University College of Engineering. Additionally, he plans to incorporate outreach and engagement with middle school students in underserved communities by partnering with the college’s TEK8 program to promote STEM awareness.

Walter first joined Ohio State’s College of Engineering in 2015 as a postdoctoral researcher and became an assistant professor in 2017. He leads the Spine Biomechanics and Mechanobiology Lab within the Department of Biomedical Engineering. He earned his bachelor’s in biomedical engineering from the Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology, his master’s in bioengineering from the University of Vermont, and his PhD in biomedical engineering from the City College of New York.

by Meggie Biss, College of Engineering Communications | biss.11@osu.edu