The Li Group - Trauma and Orthopaedic Research Unit

Trauma and Orthopaedic Research Unit (TORU) is a collaborative laboratory facility led by Professor Paul N Smith AM. With laboratories at Canberra Hospital and at the John Curtin School of Medical Research (JCSMR) at the ANU, TORU possesses a significant capability to conduct research across a diverse range of fields.

Associate Professor Rachel Li at JCSMR is the Laboratory Research Lead of TORU.

Key Research Areas  

Battle with Bacteria

Bacterial resistance to antibiotics is one of the most serious challenges to global public health, as drug resistance has been found for all classes of antibiotics used in clinical practice. Infection is a leading cause of revision surgery and is associated with significant patient morbidity. The relative mortality in patients undergoing revision surgery for infected hip arthroplasty is twice that of patients undergoing revision for other causes. Since the implant surface plays a crucial role in early bacteria adhesion phases and also the desired implant osseointegration, we, with our collaborators at Monash University, have developed a novel surface modification strategy. 

Magnesium Alloy for Biodegradable and Antibacterial Orthopaedic Implants-Sheep Model

Dr Alexandra Bobinskas, a senior staff specialist of oral and facial surgery at TCH and PhD student in our laboratory has arranged large animal test on the bioactive and biodegradable materials using a sheep model, and in collaboration with Canberra Animal Hospital. This is planned to start in August 2023.  The project will test the biocompatibility of the novel test alloy and assess local tissue reaction and fracture healing at the test site as well as systemic absorption of metabolites on a sheep model. If successful, we aim to undertake an expanded study in sheep, more closely analogous to human surgical applications in 2024 before submitting an application on a human clinical trial to TGA (Therapeutic and Drug Administration, Australia) and to FDA (Food and Drug Administration, USA).

Osteoimmunology, Big Data and Modelling

TORU Laboratory has designed and led a project in collaboration with orthopaedic surgeons on sampling, banking and miRNA and mRNA sequencing of the patient's blood and bone tissue. The project has identified exosomal miRNAs as regulators of mRNAs in osteolysis of the patients undergoing revision total joint replacement (TJR). This program will provide a better understanding of mRNA related to aberrantly expressed microRNAs, which would be drug targets.

Biomarkers for Arthrofibrosis after Total Knee Arthroplasty (TKA)

This project aims to analyze the circulating miRNA pre-operation of the TKA and knee tissue mRNA post-primary TKA. We will bridge between the data of bioinformatics analyses and clinical scenarios with the expectation of providing precise predictors for prognosis of arthrofibrosis and biomarkers for prevention and drug discovery. This is a prospective study in collaboration with TORU clinical research aiming to recruit 400 patients’ blood and knee synovial tissue for plasma miRNA and tissue mRNA analysis including miRNA and mRNA sequencing, RT-RNA expression and protein assay. 

Advances and Challenges in Nanomedicine

Nanotechnology in medicine is having a significant impact on human health by improving the diagnosis, prevention and treatment of diseases. Therefore, nanomedicine has been attracting significant attention from academia, researchers, the government, funding agencies, and regulatory agencies. However, there are many features of nanoparticles that are still unknown. Key issues related to the translation and development of nanomedicines are biocompatibility and safety. The urgent challenge is developing and validating new methods for laboratory tests and clinical trials, which are different from the traditional methods used in assessment of cytotoxicity for chemical compound. TORU Laboratory is currently leading in developing the methodologies, which can be used in the assessment of potential short-term and long-term health risks.

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