Alejandro Almarza, PhD is an Associate Professor in Oral and Craniofacial Sciences in the School of Dental Medicine at the University of Pittsburgh with a secondary appointment in the Department of Bioengineering and the McGowan Institute of Regenerative Medicine, and the Director of the TMJ laboratories. Dr. Almarza graduated with a PhD in Bioengineering from Rice University after obtaining a BS in Chemical Engineering from Florida State University. He joined the faculty at the University of Pittsburgh in 2005.
Dr. Almarza’s research interests lie in the areas of regeneration and biomechanics, with an emphasis on Temporomandibular Joint (TMJ). Specifically, Dr. Almarza is performing preclinical work to translate to the clinic the use of extracellular matrix scaffolds to regenerate the TMJ disc with input from the FDA. Furthermore, Dr. Almarza is also working towards identifying appropriate biomaterials to guide stem cell differentiation for discrete regeneration of both cartilage and bone. In terms of biomechanics, Dr. Almarza seeks to understand the link between cartilage damage from abnormal loading and TMJ pain.
Dr. Almarza has authored both refereed journal publications and several book chapters. He is a member of the Biomedical Engineering Society, the Orthopaedic Research Society, the International Association of Dental Research, the American Association of Dental Research, the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, and the American Society of TMJ Surgeons (invited). He is the Academic Editor of PLoS One and a reviewer for Tissue Engineering, Archives of Oral Biology, Journal of Biomechanics, Osteoarthritis and Cartilage, Orthopaedic Research, amongst others.
This proposal seeks support to investigate the use of a biologic scaffold composed of extracellular matrix (ECM) as an inductive scaffold for the in vivo generation of a temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disc. Approximately 3% to 4% of the population seeks treatment for TMJ disorders; 90% of which are women. Approximately 70% of patients with TMJ disorders suffer from disc displacement; a fact that identifies the TMJ disc as a critical component in the cascade of events that lead to TMJ pathology. Spontaneous TMJ disc regeneration in-vivo does not occur, and subsequent articulating surface degeneration can lead to the need for total joint replacement with marked negative consequences upon the quality of life. Development of a replacement disc would protect articulating joint surfaces, mitigate morbidity, and obviate the need for subsequent joint replacement. The central hypothesis of this study is that implantation of an extracellular matrix (ECM) scaffold will provide the necessary template for regeneration of the temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disc. Specifically, the anisotropy of mechanical properties of the regenerated disc will return to near native level in the long term (12-months) due to site specific remodeling of ECM bioscaffold. In a focused 2- year study involving two Specific Aims, we will test this hypothesis. A clear experimental design has been established and the studies are based upon solid preliminary data.