Kacena Lab

Under the direction of Melissa Kacena, PhD, the Kacena Lab is exploring the interaction of the bone and hematopoietic systems, thereby potentially improving the treatment of metabolic bone disease, hematopoietic disorders and fracture healing.

To achieve this goal, the Kacena Lab focuses on the role of megakaryocytes, megakaryocyte growth factors and their receptors in bone homeostasis; osteoblasts and the hematopoietic stem cell niche; regulators of osteosarcoma tumor growth; translational/clinical studies examining the genetic regulation of skeletal homeostasis; the molecular mechanisms underlying bone repair and fracture healing.

Collaborative Training Environment

Trainees within the Kacena Lab include medical students, residents and postdoctoral fellows. The teaching aspect of this lab encompasses molecular and cellular bone biology techniques and/or in vivo fracture healing models. Trainees become disciplined in several techniques, including molecular cell culture (i.e. RNA extraction, qPCR, western blotting, serum/media ELISAs), radiographic (i.e. DEXA, pQCT, microCT, planar radiography), histologic (i.e. thin and thick sectioning, staining, IHC, fluorochrome histomorphometry), and biomechanical (i.e. whole bone mechanical properties).

Department of Orthopaedic Surgery

Noteworthy Projects and Findings

Bone Healing

Bone Healing in Space

In collaboration with NASA and the U.S. Department of Defense, the Kacena Lab introduced innovative research 250 miles above the Earth’s surface aboard the International Space Station as part of the Rodent Research IV (RR-IV) mission. The goal of RR-IV is to determine the effectiveness of a new drug therapy developed by Kacena to enhance bone regeneration. In the weightlessness of space, researchers are able to study novel and current bone healing therapies to translate new discoveries in bone regeneration for osteoporosis, fracture healing and other bone disorders. If successful, this new drug therapy introduced through the RR-IV mission may help expedite the healing process for patients with severely damaged or injured bones.
Read More Bone Healing in Space
A female researcher works in the Kacena Lab

SARS-CoV-2 and Bone Loss

Amid the pandemic, the lab shifted its focus slightly and diverted some of their work to COVID-19 after several studies from across the country revealed that people who died from the coronavirus had a high number of megakaryocytes built up in various organs, causing significant issues. Given the lab’s experience studying megakaryocytes, it was a good opportunity to reinvent their work. During these investigations, researchers discovered that mouse models infected with the novel coronavirus lost approximately 25% of their bone mass within two weeks of contagion. They also found mouse models with a 63% increase in osteoclasts, the cells that cause bone to break down. These changes were observed even in mice with mild and asymptomatic infections.
Read More SARS-CoV-2 and Bone Loss

Principal Investigator

The Kacena Lab is led by Melissa Kacena, PhD, the Vice Chair for Research in the Department of Orthopaedic Surgery. She received her PhD in aerospace engineering from the University of Colorado in collaboration with Harvard Medical School and NASA Ames Research Center. She completed her postdoctoral training in orthopaedics at Yale University School of Medicine, where she was promoted to assistant professor before being recruited to IU in 2007.

Lab Blog

To stay current on the out-of-this-world research conducted by the Kacena Laboratory, follow the IU School of Medicine Bone Healing in Space blog.


Staff List

Vince Alentado, Medical Resident Researcher
Olatundun Awosanya, Graduate Student Researcher
Hanisha Battina, Undergraduate Student Researcher
Rachel Blosser, Lab Manager
Alex Brinker, Researcher
Ushashi Dadwal, PhD, Postdoctoral Research Fellow
Sarah Mostardo, Lab Tech
Murad Nazzal, Undergraduate Student Researcher
Mustufa Shaikh, Lab Tech
Caio Staut, Researcher
Donghui Zhou, PhD, Postdoctoral Research Fellow

Sandy Passe, Grant Coordinator
Sue Samson, Administrative Assistant

Melissa Kacena, PhD,  stands with a member of her research staff as they work in the lab.