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Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine

Faculty Profile: Erin Hsu, PhD, Associate Professor of Orthopaedic Surgery

Erin Hsu, PhD

Erin Hsu, PhD, serves as research associate professor of Orthopaedic Surgery and assistant director of the Simpson Querrey Institute for BioNanotechnology (SQI). At the SQI, Hsu works on strategic initiatives and new programs designed to foster collaborations between SQI members and other faculty in the Northwestern community. Hsu also leads her own laboratory — the Laboratory for Regenerative Technologies in Orthopaedic Surgery — along with her husband, Wellington Hsu, MD, the Clifford C. Raisbeck, MD, Professor of Orthopaedic Surgery and an associate professor of Neurological Surgery.


What are your research interests? 

My lab studies bone biology, with the major areas of focus being bone regeneration and bone toxicology. Our bone regenerative studies aim to replace current sub-optimal clinical approaches for bone healing with safer and more effective alternatives, especially in the spine. Along with my clinician-scientist husband, who plays an active role in our laboratory’s research, I was invited to join the SQI as resident faculty in 2016. 

SQI has a primary mission to enable efficient cross-disciplinary collaboration to solve clinical challenges — as resident faculty, my laboratory is located in very close proximity to those of many of my collaborators. We work closely with these collaborators — such as Samuel Stupp, PhD, director of the SQI, professor of Medicine in the Division of Endocrinology, and Ramille Shah, PhD, assistant professor of Surgery in the Division of Organ Transplantation — to create improved solutions in the bone regeneration arena.  

Our orthopaedic toxicology work aims to understand how environmental toxins adversely affect bone and inhibit bone healing, so that we can develop better approaches to prevent such effects. For instance, we study the role of the aryl hydrocarbon receptor in cigarette smoke-mediated inhibition of bone healing, and we investigate the utility of phytochemical-based antagonists of that receptor to provide protective effects in that setting.    

What is the ultimate goal of your research? 

The goal of our research is to improve our understanding of how bone and bone progenitor (stem) cells respond to both endogenous and external stimuli. This knowledge allows us to manipulate the biological system, for instance by directing stem cells to more efficiently become bone-forming cells in a pre-clinical model of bone healing, or by protecting bone cells from adverse external insult that could impair their function and cause harm to the patient’s musculoskeletal system. Ultimately, we aim to use this information to create safer and more robust approaches to healing bone in various clinical settings and to improve bone health overall. 

How is your research funded? 

Our research is funded by grants from various sources, including the National Institutes of Health’s National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases and various industry partners, as well as foundations and specialty research societies. 

Where have you recently published papers? 

We’ve recently published in Nature Nanotechnology, the Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery and Science Translational Medicine.

Which honors are you most proud of and why? 

My husband and I were recently named co-recipients of the Feinberg Medical Faculty Council’s Mentor of the Year Award. My husband is a practicing spine surgeon in the Department of Orthopaedic Surgery, and he plays an integral role in both our laboratory research and in mentoring our students. The field of orthopaedics is highly competitive and each year we accept several research fellows who hope to gain the laboratory experience necessary in order to match successfully in an orthopaedics residency. 

We feel very honored to mentor such talented and driven individuals, and to guide them in this course. The incredible growth that we see over their time in the lab never fails to impress us, and we take great pride not only in their individual successes, but also in helping shape the next generation of researchers within the field of orthopaedics. 

Who inspires you? Or, who are your mentors? 

I am fortunate to work with and around a great many nationally renowned scientists and clinicians here at Northwestern. Among these, I have been particular inspired by Samuel Stupp, who has not only built his own phenomenally successful research program, but has also shown me the importance of aiming bigger in everything I do. It is in no small part because of him that I no longer see ceilings — anywhere. 

Most importantly, I feel uniquely fortunate to have the same dedicated and talented partner in both my work and my personal life; it is a special thing to be able to share every aspect of what I do with one person (my husband), and for that person to have the capacity to fully understand its significance. The term “team-based approach” has special meaning for us.