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Matthew E. Cunningham, MD

Laboratory for Disc Repair Strategies

Our research is focused on developing minimally invasive spinal fusion techniques that would eliminate the need for open surgery.

We investigate the basic cellular and molecular mechanisms of disc fusion, with the goal of harnessing these innate mechanisms to result in the formation of a more consistent fusion mass. We foster a close collaboration between clinicians and a multidisciplinary team of investigators with expertise in cell biology, molecular biology, and biomechanics. Our overall goal is to use our research findings to develop novel and innovative therapies for our patients.

Areas of Investigation

  • Tissue Engineering of the intervertebral disc
  • Molecular biology vs. small molecule augmentation of spinal fusion
  • Molecular analysis of disc physiology in healthy spines
  • Mechanisms of vascular invasion control in the healthy and diseased disc

Dr. Cunningham has clinical interest in thoracic and lumbar spine care, including spinal deformity (scoliosis, flatback, kyphosis, and spondylolisthesis) for adult and pediatric patients, and degenerative problems (stenosis, herniated discs, arthritis, instability) in adults. He conducts clinical research and participates in two multi-center study groups to improve outcomes in pediatric (CSSG) and adult (ISSG) spine deformity surgical patients. Dr. Cunningham’s laboratory is focused on the goal of developing a minimally invasive spinal fusion technique that would eliminate the need for open surgery. His laboratory investigates the basic cellular and molecular mechanisms of disc fusion, with the goal of harnessing these innate mechanisms to result in the formation of a more consistent fusion mass.

Our laboratory consists of a multidisciplinary team of investigators with expertise in cell biology, molecular biology, developmental biology, biomechanics, mechanical engineering, and biomaterials, and orthopedic surgeons from the Sports Medicine Service.

Principal Investigator

Matthew E. Cunningham, MD, Laboratory Director


Robert Frawley, BS, Graduate Student
George (Nick) Spaniel, BS, Technician
Iyer, Sravisht MD, Resident, HSS

HSS Collaborators

Carl Blobel, MD, PhD
Joseph Lane, MD
Stephen Doty, PhD
Adele Boskey, PhD
Frank Cammisa, MD
Celeste Abjornson, PhD
Chisa Hidaka, MD
Han Jo Kim, MD
Virginie LaPhage, PhD
Bernard Rawlins, MD

Opportunities to join our group

We have opportunities for medical students, residents, fellows, and post-doctoral candidates to work in our laboratory. Our laboratory carries out translational research related to disc fusion. Medical students, residents, and fellows can assist with animal surgery, tissue dissection, tissue preparation for histologic analysis.

Recent Publications

  • Bjerke BT, Cheung ZB, Shifflett GD, Iyer S, Derman PB, Cunningham ME. Do Current Recommendations for Upper Instrumented Vertebra Predict Shoulder Imbalance? An Attempted Validation of Level Selection for Adolescent Idiopathic Scoliosis. HSS J. 2015 Oct;11(3):216-22. doi: 10.1007/s11420-015-9451-y. Epub 2015 Jun 27.
  • Rodeo SA, Lebaschi A, Carballo C, Zong J, Khilnani T, Cunningham ME, Lane J, Maher S. What's New in Orthopaedic Research. J Bone Joint Surg Am. 2015 Dec 2;97(23):1972-8. doi: 10.2106/JBJS.O.00958. Review.
  • Liu S, Diebo BG, Henry JK, Smith JS, Hostin R, Cunningham ME, Mundis G, Ames CP, Burton D, Bess S, Akbarnia B, Hart R, Passias PG, Schwab FJ, Lafage V. The benefit of nonoperative treatment for adult spinal deformity: identifying predictors for reaching a minimal clinically important difference. International Spine Study Group (ISSG). Spine J. 2016 Feb;16(2):210-8. doi: 10.1016/j.spinee.2015.10.043. Epub 2015 Oct 31.
  • Swarup I, Bjerke-Kroll BT, Cunningham ME. Paraspinous hemolymphangioma associated with adolescent scoliosis. World J Clin Cases. 2015 Jun 16;3(6):514-8. doi: 10.12998/wjcc.v3.i6.514.
  • Kiely PD, Cunningham ME. Letter to the editor: Off-label rhBMP-2 use in pediatric spine deformity surgery. J Neurosurg Pediatr. 2015 May;15(5):545-6.
  • Rodeo SA, Sugiguchi F, Fortier LA, Cunningham ME, Maher S. What's new in orthopaedic research. J Bone Joint Surg Am. 2014 Dec 3;96(23):2015-9.
  • Schroeder JE, Cunningham ME, Ross T, Boachie-Adjei O. Early results of sacro-iliac joint fixation following long fusion to the sacrum in adult spine deformity. HSS J. 2014 Feb;10(1):30-5.
  • Hart RA, Cabalo A, Bess S, Akbarnia BA, Boachie-Adjei O, Burton D, Cunningham ME, Gupta M, Hostin R, Kebaish K, Klineberg E, Mundis G, Shaffrey C, Smith JS, Wood K; International Spine Study Group. Comparison of patient and surgeon perceptions of adverse events after adult spinal deformity surgery. Spine (Phila Pa 1976). 2013 Apr 20;38(9):732-6.
  • Damle SR, Rawlins BA, Boachie-Adjei O, Crystal RG, Hidaka C, Cunningham ME. Lumbar spine intervertebral disc gene delivery: a pilot study in lewis rats. HSS J. 2013 Feb;9(1):36-41. doi: 10.1007/s11420-012-9319-3.
  • Gladnick BP, Schreiber JJ, Ishmael CR, Bjerke-Kroll B, Cunningham ME. Assessment of Vertebral Curves Using the Manual Post-It® Technique. J Spinal Disord Tech. 2013 Dec 10. [Epub ahead of print]
  • Yagi M, Patel R, Lawhorne TW, Cunningham ME, Boachie-Adjei O. Adult thoracolumbar and lumbar scoliosis treated with long vertebral fusion to the sacropelvis: a comparison between new hybrid selective spinal fusion versus anterior-posterior spinal instrumentation. Spine J. 2014 Apr;14(4):637-45.

Funding Sources

  • HSS Clinician-Scientist Development Program, Mary Ellen Kellen French Program


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