Intervertebral disc degeneration (IDD) is an exceedingly complex process which involves a number of possible etiologies. These include aging, injury due to excessive mechanical strain, genetic predisposition, or environmental insults such as tobacco smoking. Hence our lab explores several distinct but complementary research areas to dissect disc degeneration process. Dr. Nam Vo is leading the effort in one group in the lab to study the contribution of aging and tobacco smoking on IDD and loss of disc extracellular matrix (ECM) proteoglycans, with a special emphasis on aggrecan homeostasis. Dr. Gwendolyn Sowa is leading another group to study the mechanism of mechanical strains on disc cell metabolism, with an emphasis on how mechanical strain-induced inflammation controls disc ECM collagen expression and breakdown. On a larger scale Kevin Bell, PhD, directs the biomechanics group to investigate the biomechanical properties of the spine and the functional spine units.