For over two decades, Steven Elder has dedicated his career to improving orthopedic health through biomedical engineering research and teaching at Mississippi State University.
Elder works in the university’s Department of Agricultural and Biological Engineering, which is part of both the Bagley College of Engineering and the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. He is a professor and a Mississippi Agricultural and Forestry Experiment Station scientist who was initially drawn to orthopedics after connecting with researchers as an undergraduate. He has focused his work on developing novel drug delivery systems and tissue engineering solutions to treat conditions like osteoarthritis. These systems may someday slow the disease’s progression and significantly alleviate pain.
Currently, his work centers on developing an injectable implant that could allow physicians to administer treatment directly into a joint to provide sustained release. He explained that this approach shows promise for long-term treatment since current options only provide temporary pain relief and do not slow the erosion of cartilage, the hallmark of osteoarthritis.
“By incorporating drugs into biodegradable polymers, the hope is to provide sustained treatment for osteoarthritis over weeks or months,” Elder explained. “Substances injected into a joint are usually cleared in a few hours, but my goal is to have a system in place to provide pain management and relief for weeks at a time.”
After becoming personally interested in the role of 3D printing in research and academia, Elder incorporated the use of 3D printers in his research and in the classes he teaches. He explained he finds creative uses to further his own orthopedic research, such as printing parts for experimental devices. He also has played a key role in department purchases of technology for student use. Elder said it’s important for students to learn more about 3D printing because the technology can aid them in their future careers.
“3D printing encourages experimentation and prototyping since students can quickly print designs,” Elder said. “It allows for hands-on, project-based learning since students can print parts for class assignments, designs, or senior projects, which keeps them engaged.”
In addition to his research, Elder takes pride in mentoring students and helping them succeed in their careers. He recalled one student he supported who went on to win a prestigious National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship. He said these impacts have been the most rewarding parts of his career.
Elder also has made it his mission to get undergraduates more involved in research. He explained that any research involvement for undergraduates is vitally essential for their future careers and that in conducting research, they might find the subject they are passionate about, just like he did.
“I think back to all the students I’ve taught, and if I’ve helped them even just a little to go on to wonderful, fulfilling careers, then I feel like I’ve succeeded,” he said.