Dr. Karen Hasty Interview

Karen Hasty, PhD, George Thomas Wilhelm Endowed Professor

Researcher relished days spent chasing answers about arthritis.

What Karen Hasty knows about arthritis could fill not just a book but a small library of books. The problem, Dr. Hasty says, is that for everything she knows about arthritis, there's far more that she doesn't.

"That is what it's like to be a research scientist," said Hasty, chief researcher for the UT-Campbell Clinic Department of Orthopaedic Surgery. "Every answer raises another question. It's not frustrating, it's fascinating. I've been doing research for 30 years, and I still think it's a wonderful way to spend your life."

Since Hasty is accustomed to questions, we asked some about her work and the scientific research profession. Here are her answers:

What are some of the questions you are studying in regard to arthritis?

"My work is concerned primarily with understanding what is happening on the cellular level as arthritis develops. We have been using a machine in the lab to put physical stresses on cartilage and asking, how does mechanical stress affect cellular behavior? We ask, how do young cartilage cells respond to those stresses in comparison with old cartilage cells? We're looking at the effects of certain growth factors. We want to prevent the breakdown of cartilage early in the disease and develop the possibility of cartilage regeneration, if it has broken down. Those are just a few; there are a lot more."

What has changed most during the three decades you've been a scientific researcher?

"Scientific advances and new technology developed over the course of my career have been just phenomenal. We now know the sequence of every gene in the human body, and you can buy 20,000-plus genes on a microchip to study in the lab. This year our department was able to purchase a MicroCT, an amazing machine that will let us label cells, inject them, and watch where they go. There are more than I can mention, but I feel like we're just at the beginning of a great era for scientific discovery."

"Another big change is that research science today is more multi-disciplinary. You can't be just a chemist, or a molecular biologist, or a bioengineer. You've really got to encompass all those fields. The questions we're asking are more complex, and you can't know everything, so you work with other scientists who are specialists in the other areas. We used to work in boxes; now we are putting the boxes together in a systems approach."

How does that apply to your research on arthritis?

"I started out as a cell biologist, growing cells in a Petri dish. Then the research I became involved in required that I evolve into a biochemist, then a molecular biologist. Now what I am doing means I have to pick up some parts of the orthopaedic approach as well as tissue engineering. I do not know all these fields as well as someone who is a specialist. I really think the era of the individual scientist is over. The breakthroughs are beginning to come from larger, interdisciplinary groups."

What's the most interesting project you've ever worked on?

"What I'm working on right now. It's always that way – my current project absorbs me; the next experiment is the most exciting. I can't believe I get paid to do something I love so much."

Interview taken from the Campbell Foundation Momentum.

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