URMC’s Center for Musculoskeletal Research Has Banner Year for NIH Funding

Sep. 17, 2015
For nearly 20 years URMC’s Center for Musculoskeletal Research (CMSR) has been one of the top NIH-funded orthopaedic research programs in the country, and this is shaping up to be its best year yet: With nine of the center’s grants earning high scores in NIH funding results, it is poised to receive more than $15 million in federal research funding.

Most of the new CMSR grants cover five years and are worth between $1.6 million and $2.9 million each. Two additional program grants worth more than $6.3 million are pending review by the NIH.

The funds will support research that expands our knowledge of common musculoskeletal problems such as rheumatoid arthritis flares and bone infections. Arthritis is a chronic condition but patients can experience acute episodes of pain and inflammation, called flares. Causes of flares are not well understood; CMSR researchers will conduct a clinical trial to develop a new lymphatic imaging test to diagnose and evaluate arthritic flare.  They also will investigate the potential use of PDE5 inhibitors such as Viagra and Cialis to treat rheumatoid arthritis flares.

Bone infection is a serious complication for patients who undergo total joint replacement; CMSR researchers have been working to develop a vaccine against the most common type of infection, methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus, or MRSA. When a patient contracts MRSA, the artificial joint must be removed and replaced with a temporary spacer until the infection resolves. In the newly NIH-funded project, researchers will test CMSR’s patented “passive immunization” approach that embeds medication into the spacer, localizing medication at the infection site for greater effectiveness.

Another project will explore whether tissue engineering can repair torn tendons without causing scarring, a common drawback of surgery. Tissue engineering will also be tested as a way to address craniofacial defects; for this project, CMSR will join a new national consortium that uses its 3D printing technology and partner with the Upstate Stem Cell cCMP facility.

CMSR was created in 2000; its scientists focus on a wide range of topics such as bone biology and musculoskeletal stem cell biology; infection control during and after orthopaedic surgery; bone cancer; osteoporosis; and improving treatments for arthritis and related conditions.

Building a team-based approach to research is key to the center’s success, said Eddie Schwarz, Ph.D., CMSR director and the Richard and Margaret Burton Distinguished Professor in Orthopaedics.

 “We have a system in place that emphasizes strategic planning and team science,” said Schwarz. “Our system has several philosophies that distinguish us from other labs in the nation.”

While many orthopaedic laboratories rely heavily on industry funding, the CMSR pursues the NIH as its primary source of support and allows its scientists to develop long-term research programs. CMSR recruits researchers strategically by looking for investigators who have a needed expertise (e.g. stem cells, big data science) and can serve a particular role on the CMSR team.

“Typically, new faculty members recruited to the CMSR have shown significant effort as a co-investigator on grants before they obtain their first NIH grant as principal investigator. With this integration into the CMSR as a critically valued member with a research niche, our faculty knows that they won’t be able to replicate their research environment or success in another place. This is how we built the CMSR—every PI in our center has a unique strength.”

Final dollar amounts for the NIH grants will be announced in spring 2016.