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Mentorship, Focus on Impactful Research Sustain CMSR’s NIH Funding Leadership

Tuesday, March 21, 2023

In the intense competition for ever-scarcer National Institute of Health funding, leading musculoskeletal research centers across the nation jockey for top positions year after year. The Center for Musculoskeletal Research has been in the top 10 NIH-funded orthopaedic research centers since 2000, and just placed fourth in national funding in Orthopaedics for 2022 in rankings compiled by the Blue Ridge Institute for Medical Research.

It’s no secret why CMSR has been at the top so consistently, for so long, said Edward M. Schwarz, PhD, Richard and Margaret Burton Distinguished Professor of Orthopaedics and Director of the CMSR. "You have to make the commitment to sustain and grow the next generation of researchers to have results like this for more than two decades."

CMSR’s formula for developing young researchers into fierce grant competitors includes:

Researcher-physician dyads: CMSR pairs each new PhD recruit with an orthopaedic surgeon to give the researcher real-world understanding of the clinical challenges their investigations can impact because high-value investigations win the competition for NIH support. That’s why every grant application CMSR researchers submit starts with a description of their dyad partner’s biggest clinical problem and how their proposed project could unlock clues to help address it.

Mentoring: All new investigators are assigned more experienced CMSR researchers to mentor them on research planning, grant applications and more. It widens their research knowledge base and helps them acquire practical skills in running their labs, while providing important professional and collegial support.  
Weekly focus sessions: Every Friday morning, new researchers meet as a group with Schwarz to go over every challenge they’re facing, from setting up and staffing their labs, to grant writing, to work-life balance. Schwarz focuses on helping young researchers build essential skills in public speaking, professional presentations, and business acuity – because he views each as the CEO of their own lab, responsible for its financial viability. To this end, members of the Department of Orthopaedics Advisory Council have volunteered to be business-world mentors to the researchers in addition to the counseling they get from CMSR colleagues.

The center’s focus on career development and its longstanding funding success attract talent from outside as well as within URMC, Schwarz added: "We’re very excited to have a large group of new assistant professors who are exceptional." Chia-Lung Wu, PhD, was recruited from Washington University in 2019. Chike Cao, PhD, joined in 2020 from Weill Cornell Medicine; Shu-Chi (Allison) Yeh, PhD, joined in 2021 from Harvard Medical School; Ram Haddas, PhD, an alum of Indiana University, Texas Tech University Health Sciences and University of Texas, came to CMSR in 2022.  Gowrishhankar Muthukrishnan, PhD, and Anne E.C. Nichols, PhD, were promoted to assistant professors from CMSR’s research track faculty.  All are finalizing their R01 proposals; with each worth $2M to $3M, the added funding could bump CMSR even higher in the Blue Ridge Rankings in the next two years.

CMSR’s project outcomes are getting national attention as well.  A research team led by Chao Xie, MD, MSBA, recently achieved a world-first, microscopic look at a joint implant infection overtaking the joint space in real time, captured on video – a phenomenon known as "the race for the surface" --  and presented their findings at the Orthopaedic Research Society meeting Feb. 10-14.

"The attendees were awestruck," Schwarz said. "The scientific finding about infection of an implant is not the remarkable part – it’s that you can actually see it taking place, and see how quickly an untreated infection can overwhelm an implant. Industry reps and FDA officials at the meeting were very interested in this as a way to more quickly evaluate potential new drugs and antimicrobial implants and bring them to market."

In the coming year, researchers will test their initial findings’ replicability and how standard-of-care antibiotics can influence the "race."

CMSR is looking forward to building its funding base to advance this and other research programs. Its success boils down to two things, Schwarz said: "A culture that prizes success, and a system for developing young researchers’ talent and ability to compete for support. That’s how we sustain ourselves for so long. The next generation is learning the system and we expect them to be our legacy." 

CMSR basketball game fundraiser featuring ‘The Bone Collectors (CMSR/BME Faculty)’ vs ‘The Cadavaleers (CMSR/BME Trainees)’ raises over $1,700 for the Center for Youth, Rochester, NY

Tuesday, February 14, 2023

The trainees faced off against faculty in a basketball game this past weekend that resulted in a 77-51 win for the Bone Collectors after a fierce competition.

After tipoff, the game seemed evenly matched as both teams displayed impressive feats of athleticism and skill (to the surprise of many in the audience). However, the combined experience of the Bone Collectors allowed the veteran team to maintain a steady barrage of scoring and physical defense through the second quarter. The young Cadavaleers, lacking the chemistry that comes with playing pick-up basketball for several decades, seemed disconnected and eventually gave up a 20-point lead at halftime. Coming out of the halftime break, the Cadavaleers played aggressively and began chipping away at the Bone Collector’s lead. A close contest at the end of regulation seemed possible, but ultimately the steady play of the Bone Collectors kept the young Cadavaleers at bay.

We thank the families, friends, and many spectators who came out to support the teams and the Center for Youth. This Rochester community organization provides a safe space for youth during moments of crisis by offering temporary and transitional housing, crisis nursery services, and school-based counseling where youth can find their voice and become career and college ready.

Read more about how you can get involved with this organization.

Photos from the event can be viewed/downloaded from the CMSR Flickr account.

Benjamin Miller selected as a fellow of the National Academy of Inventors (NAI)

Monday, January 9, 2023

Benjamin Miller, a pioneer in developing compact chips and biosensors for disease detection and personalized medicine, has also been selected as a fellow of the National Academy of Inventors (NAI).

Miller, the Dean’s Professor of Dermatology, joined the Rochester faculty in 1996. He also holds appointments in biomedical engineering, biochemistry and biophysics, optics, and materials science. His lab focuses on two fundamental research areas: the control of biomolecular interactions through the synthesis of new small-molecule probes, and the observation of biomolecular interactions through the development of novel optical sensing technologies. The applications include the production of compact, inexpensive biosensors that could replace current floor-standing clinical diagnostic systems with small, cell phone-sized devices.