May 20, 2021

Bioprinting Meniscus Tissue for One of the Most Common Injuries in Young Service Members

Jon Dickens

Researcher to Watch
Lieutenant Colonel Jonathan F. Dickens, MD

One of the most common and debilitating injuries among young U.S. military service members is meniscal tears in the knee. This injury can be caused by forcefully twisting or rotating the knee when a person pivots or suddenly stops and turns. The incidence rate of meniscal tears is about 10 times higher in the military compared to civilian populations resulting in 8,000 knee arthroscopy procedures every year in the military, making it the most commonly performed orthopedic procedure. Unfortunately, meniscal repair and replacement strategies have not quite caught up to other tissue engineering efforts.

Army Lieutenant Colonel Jonathan F. Dickens, MD, is working to advance military readiness by combining next-generation regenerative medicine techniques in tissue engineering and rehabilitative medicine to improve the long-term health of our warfighters.

Dr. Dickens is a fellowship-trained sports medicine orthopedic surgeon, the Director of Orthopedic Research at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center (WRNMMC), and a Geneva researcher for the Uniformed Services University Center for Biotechnology (USU-4DBio3 ) Meniscus Project. Led by USU-4DBio3 Director and Principal Investigator Vincent B. Ho, MD, MBA, Dr. Dickens is conducting research on tissue-engineered meniscal bioprinted implants to understand if it will provide an alternative solution for the treatment of meniscal injury.

“Our team created a 3D bioprinted meniscus tissue model and tested its reliability,” said Dr. Dickens. “We subjected the tissue to a compression test typical of a real-life scenario.” He added, “The information received from these experiments are then translated into guidelines for a bioprinted meniscal model which will incorporate both normal functioning cells and biomaterials.”

Addressing the consistency barriers in the military for this solution, USU-4DBio3 has integrated their research and development efforts with a distance-learning fellowship and training program, along with USMA – West Point, Department of the Army, Armament, Research, Development and Engineering Center (ARDEC), military-civilian universities (Texas A&M Corps of Cadets), the Medical Enlisted Training Command in San Antonio, and USU’s College of Allied Health Sciences. “An essential part of this research is integrating education and training in all aspects of the research and development stage,” said Dr. Dickens. “We hope that we can promote a more resilient and technology-educated force that can provide these consistent solutions wherever they are needed across the entire military.”

Dr. Dickens is also an investigator with USU’s Musculoskeletal Injury Rehabilitation Research for Operational Readiness Program (MIRROR), managed by Geneva, where he is working on biomarkers that predict shoulder instability and analyzing the efficacy of a new form of cold therapy (cryotherapy) after shoulder, knee and hip arthroscopic procedures.

In addition, Dr. Dickens is the Vice Chair of Research and Professor in the Department of Surgery at USU, and adjunct faculty in the John A. Feagin Jr. Sports Medicine Fellowship at the United States Military Academy at West Point. Dr. Dickens also serves as the Director of Military Orthopedics Tracking Injuries and Outcomes Networks (MOTION). His research was formerly awarded the Aircast Award from the American Orthopedic Society of Sports Medicine, the largest prospective study evaluating shoulder instability in mid-season contract athletes.