Engineering Targeted Therapeutic Strategies for Joint Injuries and Osteoarthritis

Date(s) - 09/23/2019
3:00 pm - 4:00 pm

Communicore, C1-17

Blanka Sharma, Ph.D., Assistant Professor, J. Crayton Pruitt Family Department of Biomedical Engineering, University of Florida

Exciting advances have been made in the discovery of therapeutic molecules and cells to treat numerous devastating medical conditions. However, their successful application in patients is curtailed by significant challenges in effectively delivering these therapeutics where an injury or disease is localized. Dr. Sharma’s research program aims to address these challenges by engineering biomaterials capable of presenting biological signals in a site- and/or cell-specific manner within the body. Though this talk will focus primarily on applications in orthopedic tissue regeneration and the treatment of osteoarthritis (OA), Dr. Sharma will touch on intersecting topics in cancer nanomedicine and immunotherapy. OA is highly complex degenerative joint disease with maladaptive processes occurring within different tissues in the joint (eg. cartilage, synovium, and bone), each with their own unique drug delivery barriers and considerations. Dr. Sharma’s laboratory seeks to overcome these barriers, by exploiting specific nanoparticle-extracellular matrix interactions and nanoparticle-cell interactions to improve tissue targeting and retention of therapeutic molecules within OA joints. Recent work will be presented on the design of nanoparticle systems that localize to articular cartilage and protect it from inflammatory insults and oxidative stress. These studies have revealed important particle design parameters that consider how the joint’s lubricating fluid and disease state impact nanoparticle targeting strategies. Moving forward, the goal of this research is to establish drug delivery systems that can target multiple disease mechanisms in multiple locations in the joint to provide a synergistic, whole joint approach to treating OA. This includes understanding the role of innate immune cells in the initiation and propagation of OA, and consequently targeting immunomodulatory signals to these cells. Challenges and considerations for clinical translation of biomaterials for joint injuries and diseases will also be discussed.


Dr. Sharma is an Assistant Professor of Biomedical Engineering at the University of Florida. Her research program investigates fundamental cell-material interactions to guide the development of targeted drug and cell delivery systems for applications in regenerative medicine and cancer therapy. Dr. Blanka Sharma received her undergraduate degree in Chemical Engineering from the University of Waterloo (Waterloo, Ontario, Canada), her Ph.D. from Johns Hopkins University (Baltimore, MD) in the Department of Biomedical Engineering, and her postdoctoral training at the Cleveland Clinic (Cleveland, OH). Dr. Sharma served as Director of Research for Cartilix Inc. from 2005-2009, a start-up company based on her doctoral research, where she worked towards clinical translation of a hydrogel technology for cartilage repair in the knee. After starting her faculty position in 2014 at the University of Florida, Dr. Sharma was featured by the American Society for Engineering Education as one of “20 Under 40” Outstanding Junior Faculty in the U.S. Recently, Dr. Sharma was a recipient of the National Science Foundation Faculty Early Career Development Program (CAREER) award, one of the NSF’s most prestigious awards for junior faculty. Her research program is also supported by the National Institutes of Health, the Department of Defense, and the State of Florida.