Dr. Kohn's research program focuses on two aspects of biomineralization. First, they seek to understand how the organizational hierarchy of mineralized tissues results in mechanical competence (or, conversely, increased susceptibility to damage/fracture). Second, they seek to mimic aspects of nature's biomineralization strategies as a design basis for developing well-controlled systems that may be used to study basic questions/hypotheses regarding cell and molecular function.
Regarding the first aspect of their program, they seek to establish structure-function relations in mineralized tissues and study functional adaptation of these tissues in response to perturbations in the local microenvironment (e.g. alterations in mechanical loading, interactions with biomaterials, disease, aging). There are two guiding principles to our analysis of structure-function relations: it is highly integrated - they develop correlations between mechanical properties, crystal structure/orientation, protein orientation, chemical composition and gene expression; and seek to establish these correlations at different levels of organizational hierarchy - from the whole bone-level down through the tissue and ultrastructural-levels to the protein and gene-levels.
Regarding the second aspect of their program, biomimetic strategies are used to develop model systems in which biological output (in-vitro and in-vivo) can be quantitatively related to a well-controlled engineering input. A more long-term, applied and clinically motivated goal is to ultimately utilize this information to develop approaches to replace and/or regenerate tissues. In an effort to create biomaterials that modulate biological response in a controlled manner, they synthesize, characterize and evaluate more biologically based biomaterials. Their biomimetic approach involves exploiting aspects of 3 strategies used by nature - organic template-mediated self-assembly and mineralization, functional gradients, and environmental responsiveness.