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Musculoskeletal research at IU School of Medicine focuses on the discovery and development of new treatments for musculoskeletal disease.
Lynda Bonewald in the lab

Musculoskeletal Research

As the U.S. population ages, diseases and disorders of the musculoskeletal system are becoming substantially more widespread and burdensome. When taken with the fact that the musculoskeletal system is essential for good health at every stage of life, it is clear that research focused on garnering a better understand musculoskeletal health is critical. Specifically, the musculoskeletal conditions of sarcopenia, osteoporosis and arthritis continue to increase, as do the demand for hip and knee replacements. The overall economic burden of musculoskeletal conditions is greater than that of cancer, stroke and cardiac arrest combined.

The Indiana Center for Musculoskeletal Health (ICMH) seeks to drive innovative research in musculoskeletal health by bringing together a world-class cohort of multidisciplinary investigators and facilitating their collaboration. This is accomplished through the use of research service cores, pilot funding opportunities, thematic research teams, and strategic committees, as outlined below.

Collaborative Funding Opportunities

The center supports two annual initiatives for internal pilot funding. These pilot funding programs are important mechanisms in supporting multidisciplinary research projects led by teams of collaborative primary investigators. The ultimate objective is to support creative research and discoveries by these expert teams. These initiatives are open to all members of the ICMH.

The ICMH is also proud to partner with the IU Melvin and Bren Simon Comprehensive Cancer Center, the Stark Neurosciences Research Institute, the Indiana Center for Diabetes and Metabolic Diseases, and the Herman B Wells Center for Pediatric Research in an annual multi-center funding program. The goal of this initiative is to bring together members of the participating centers and institutes to collaborate on the development of groundbreaking concepts that advance the mission of IU School of Medicine as well as the research goals of the funding centers. Projects are cross-disciplinary, in novel areas of investigation, and carry the goal of generating data in support of future collaborative funding opportunities.

Research Service Cores

Research service cores are available to support Indiana Center for Musculoskeletal Health investigators and collaborative medical research partners working in this area of medicine. ICMH service cores provide centralized, shared resources which offer access to instruments, technologies, and services, such as expert consultation, to scientific and clinical investigators on the IU School of Medicine–Indianapolis campus. Research support in the areas of animal imaging and analysis, musculoskeletal histology, musculoskeletal biobanking, and clinical care and mobility is currently available.

Thematic Research Teams

Focused research teams are composed of basic, translational, and clinical researchers, including medical and graduate students, post-doctoral fellows, and orthopaedic fellows. These cross-departmental groups are made up of experts in genetic, precision medicine, trauma, rehab, regeneration, mechanobiology, muscle/bone crosstalk, musculoskeletal cancer, and pediatric musculoskeletal disease.

Five dedicated research teams actively pursue these specific research focuses, and new teams and subgroups are welcome. Individuals interested in joining or supporting one of the research teams can contact the center.

  • Cancer 

    Cancers arise in musculoskeletal tissue, and non-musculoskeletal cancers and anti-cancer therapies can damage both bone and muscle. The Cancer Research Team of the ICMH focuses on cancers arising from musculoskeletal cells (sarcomas), the interactions between cancer and bone in the metastatic niche, and the effects of cancer and cancer therapies on the musculoskeletal system. As well, these investigators study how the musculoskeletal system can influence cancer risk, development, progression, and outcomes.

    Team Leaders: Ed Greenfield, PhD and Tarah J. Ballinger, MD

  • Lifestyle Modifications: Physical Activity and Nutrition

    The lifestyle modification team’s research focuses on the lifestyle, nutrition, and behavioral modifications that impact musculoskeletal health and physical function, specifically in regard to nutrition and mobility. The goal of this research is to better understand how musculoskeletal health and physical function affect the overall health of the population and how chronic diseases impact musculoskeletal health.

    Team Leaders: Andrew Coggan, PhD and Brenda Smith, PhD

  • Mechanobiology and Muscle-Bone Crosstalk

    Bone and muscle couple mechanical and biochemical stimulation to effect cellular responses through signal transduction. They also act as endocrine/secretory organs by releasing soluble factors, such as osteokines and myokines. The Mechanobiology and Muscle-Bone Crosstalk research team utilizes molecular, cellular, systemic and organismal level functional outcomes to investigate mutual interactions between bone and muscle.  Given many physiological processes are regulated by bone and muscle in a paracrine manner, our group also investigates distant tissues in development, normal physiology and disease.

    Team Leaders: Uma Sankar, PhD and William Thompson, DPT, PhD

  • Musculoskeletal Medicine: Adults and Pediatrics
    The Musculoskeletal Medicine: Adults and Pediatrics team includes both clinicians and researchers from several disciplines. Members have a broad focus on a range of genetic and acquired musculoskeletal diseases affecting individuals across their lifespan from childhood through adulthood. Team members investigate genetic conditions such as X-linked hypophosphatemia, osteogenesis imperfecta and osteopetrosis, along with normal skeletal development and musculoskeletal complications of a variety of chronic diseases including diabetes, obesity and kidney disease, as well as diseases of aging including sarcopenia and osteoporosis. Team members employ a variety of research methodologies including clinical trials, animal and cell models, genomic, metabolic and proteomic techniques, precision health and informatics to assess disease risk and treatment response.

    Team Leaders: Linda A. DiMeglio, MDErik A. Imel, MD, and Ken White, PhD

  • Trauma, Regeneration and Rehabilitation
    Focusing on developing patient-specific interventions, the Trauma, Regeneration and Rehabilitation team investigators are working to treat patients sustaining musculoskeletal injury, specifically injuries that result in acute and chronic musculoskeletal disease. These treatment goals include acute interventions, regenerative interventions for both bone and muscle, and eventually identifying the optimal means of rehabilitation for the patient to resume a normal lifestyle.

    Team Leaders: Melissa Kacena, PhD and Roman Natoli, MD, PhD

Committees and Working Groups

With the goal of becoming an international leader in basic and translational research, clinical treatment and education, the ICMH has developed a long-term plan to guide strategy, research support, and specific research programs in alignment with the center's ten-year strategic plan. Coupled with the thematic research teams, seven committees/working groups help to develop processes and procedures to advance the center’s goals, including scheduling distinguished speakers, managing industry relations and promoting diversity and inclusion in our community.
  • Bioinformatics and Medical Informatics Working Group

    This working group is identifying means to support access to and promote use of big data by musculoskeletal researchers.  

    Working group chairs: Erik Imel, PhD and Yunlong Liu, PhD 

  • Core and Shared Instruments Operations Committee

    This committee is responsible for evaluating the ICMH cores and shared equipment, and making recommendations regarding their operations and support.  

    Committee chair: Mike Econs, MD and Melissa Kacena, PhD

  • Diversity Committee
    This group works to identify and execute initiatives intended to foster an environment of inclusion as the ICMH continues to champion diversity. The Committee's key priorities include developing opportunities for DEI dialogue within the ICMH, enhancing recruitment of students/post-docs from historically minoritized populations, and supporting faculty with the submission of Diversity Supplements in grant applications.  Committee chairs: Jason Doles, PhD and Rafael Bahamonde, PhD
  • Education Committee

    The Indiana Center for Musculoskeletal Health education committee is focused on identifying means such as courses, programs, and research projects that would provide opportunities to train future researchers and leaders in musculoskeletal research. The opportunities that are focused on or developed include graduate students, medical students, undergraduates, orthopedic fellows, and others.

    Committee chairs: Rafael Bahamonde, PhD and Brenda Smith, PhD

  • Distinguished Speaker Seminar Series Committee

    This committee is responsible for identifying, scheduling, and hosting renowned scientists in musculoskeletal research to speak, educate and connect with the faculty and members of the Indiana Center for Musculoskeletal Health.

    Committee chairs: Alex Robling, PhD and Michael Econs, MD

  • Industry Relations Working Group

    This working group establishes relationships and interfaces with industry representatives to transform discoveries into clinical applications and therapeutics.  

    Working group chair: Jie Chen, PhD

  • Pilot Project Committee

    The responsibilities of the pilot project committee is to review and recommend applications for funding collaborative musculoskeletal projects. These include applications from internal applicants to Indiana Center for Musculoskeletal Health sponsored projects. The committee currently supports three such pilot funding initiatives: the Indiana Center for Musculoskeletal Health Pilot Funding Project, the ICMH-CRC Clinical Pilot Funding Program, and the Multi-Center Pilot Project.  

    Committee Chairs: Uma Sankar, PhD and Stuart Warden, PhD 

  • Sustainability Committee 

    Colloquially known as the "Green Team", this committee is led by two of our young investigators: Drs. Yukiko Kitase and Matthew Prideaux. The goal of the committee is to evaluate whether the ICMH can maintain existing practices without placing future resources at risk and to provide tools & opportunities for our members, students, and staff geared towards reducing our carbon footprint. The committee works closely with the IUPUI Office of Sustainability in finding ways to decrease our environmental impact and generate innovative ideas to contribute to the university’s effort to respond to climate change challenges.

    Committee Chairs: Yukiko Kitase, PhD and Matt Prideaux, PhD