NIH training grant to grow IU musculoskeletal research and physician-scientist recruitment

  • Sept. 25, 2015

INDIANAPOLIS -- To boost the population of scientists studying musculoskeletal disorders and ultimately to improve treatment, the National Institutes of Health has awarded the Indiana University School of Medicine a $1.6 million, five-year grant for a Comprehensive Musculoskeletal Training Program.

The program will support research training programs for medical, graduate and post-graduate students at a time when the aging of baby boomers is expected to dramatically increase rates of musculoskeletal disorders such as arthritis, bone fractures, back pain and muscle weakness. And while musculoskeletal disorders are the leading cause of disability in the U.S., federal investment in this research is disproportionately low.

"If you survey patients in their 50s, 60s or 70s, their most important health goals are independence and mobility," said David Burr, Ph.D. and principal investigator on the grant. "These goals are central to musculoskeletal health and highlight the importance of scientists in our field discovering successful therapies, strategies and devices to allow people to maintain independence."

The musculoskeletal research group at Indiana University Purdue University—Indianapolis is uniquely suited for training in this field, according to Dr. Burr, distinguished professor of anatomy and cell biology at the IU School of Medicine, professor of biomedical engineering in the Purdue School of Engineering and Technology and associate vice chancellor for research at IUPUI.

To leverage that expertise, the IU School of Medicine is creating a new Indiana Center for Musculoskeletal Health.

"We encompass a large group of musculoskeletal disorder-oriented biologists and engineers from a variety of backgrounds," he said. "Our grant is unique because we have a large group at a single institution targeting a broad and comprehensive range of musculoskeletal diseases. It’s an ideal situation in which to investigate the causes and treatment for musculoskeletal disorders. "

The group includes more than 40 investigators from the schools of Medicine, Engineering and Technology, Science, Dentistry and Health and Rehabilitation Sciences. To give students a cross-disciplinary experience, faculty will cover four main areas of expertise including bone cancer biology, bone endocrine (the hormonal and metabolic regulation of the skeleton), bone cell biology and skeletal biomechanics.

The grant for the new musculoskeletal training program will fund:

  • Three pre-doctoral graduate students from any area of basic science or biomedical engineering
  • Three post-doctoral fellows in labs involved in musculoskeletal research
  • Three to five first-year medical students in a summer research program

The grant was awarded in early 2015 and implemented in July, with five first-year medical students completing the summer program in 2015 and three pre-doctoral students currently at work. Recruitment is underway for the three post-doctoral fellows.

"We’re always looking for skilled physician-scientists who can complement their clinical work with academic research. The post-doctoral positions can help us develop physician scientists," said Dr. Burr. "At the same time, this training grant will help support the new Center for Musculoskeletal Health’s initiative to bring together both basic and clinical MSD investigators in synchronized pursuit of solutions to musculoskeletal disease."

David Burr, Ph.D.

David Burr, Ph.D.

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Eric Schoch