Catherine B. Kirn-Safran, Ph.D.


Introductory Biology II (BISC208)

Teaching Experience (BISC422)

Research Interests

Dr. Kirn-Safran is best known for her work on the study of the terminal differentiation of progenitor cells into cells producing an organized mineralized extracellular matrix (ECM) during murine embryonic development. This area of research includes the study of the mechanisms of cartilage (chondrogenesis), bone (osteogenesis), and tooth (odontogenesis) development.

Dr. Kirn-Safran's group has been working on identifying novel strategies to slow osteoarthritis progression. One approach consists of using heparan sulfate-bearing biomaterials coupled to hyaluronan microgels for prolonged delivery of chondrogenic factors. This work is conducted in collaboration with Dr. Xinqiao Jia (UD, Department of Materials Science and Engineering). The therapeutic potential of these complexes was tested in vitro on cartilage stem cell cultures and in a mouse model of early osteoarthritis using an intra-articular injection approach (Srinivasan et al., 2012). Discovery of novel methods for activating stem cells in damaged cartilage will benefit a wide range of patients affected with chondral lesions and osteoarthritic pain.

During the past years, Dr. Kirn-Safran worked on the characterization of a mouse model expressing reduced levels of a proteoglycan, perlecan/Hspg2, which is abundant in developing bone and adult cartilage tissue. The phenotypic characterization of the perlecan/Hspg2-deficient mutant mice showed global skeletal growth deficiencies with increased calcification associated with decreased quality of adult bone (Lowe et al., 2014). Interestingly, perlecan/Hspg2, is found in the pericellular matrix of osteocytes (cells embedded in bone tissue) where it is beleived to function as a tethering element that detects and transduces signals to the bone cellular network (Wang et al., 2014). Current studies conducted in collaboration with Dr. Liyun Wang (UD, Department of Mechanical Engineering), who is a specialist in bone biomechanics, investigate the in vivo function of perlecan/Hspg2 as a mechanosensor of bone response to load. This work will determine whether this molecule is a drug target for the treatment of patients suffering from osteoporosis. In addition, other genetic and experimental mouse models developing chondral defects are studied to understand the molecular mechanisms regulating joint dysplasia syndromes and osteoarthritis, respectively.



Current Projects

  • Delaware Rehabilitation Institute (DRI) Pilot, T-Type Calcium Channel: A novel target for treatment of osteoarthritis
  • NIH R01-AR054385 (PI: L. Wang, Mechanical Engineering), Investigator: C. Kirn-Safran, Mechanosensing in the Bone Lacunar-Canalicular System.

Research Group

Sucharitha Parthasarathy. Graduate Student. Use of experimental and genetic mouse model of osteoporosis to study the molecular mechanisms involved in disease progression and bone mechanosensation.

Selected Publications


  • US-2014/0005111-A1 application entitled “Injectable Delivery System for Heparan-Binding Growth Factors” filed on 01/02/2014.



Assistant Professor

Phone: (302) 831-3249

Fax: (302) 831-2281


Office: 310 Wolf Hall

Lab: 251 McKinly

Department of Biological Sciences
Wolf Hall
University of Delaware
Newark, DE 19716


  • B.S., M.S., Ph.D. - University of Strasbourg, France
  • Postdoctoral - University of Texas-Houston, Dental Branch and M.D. Anderson Cancer Center