|Gene Homandberg receives funds to continue osteoarthritis investigation|
Gene Homandberg, chair and professor of biochemistry and molecular biology at the School of Medicine and Health Sciences, has received funds to conduct research on osteoarthritis in collaboration with the University of Iowa (UI).
Dr. Homandberg's work is part of a $7.5 million grant awarded to UI by the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases, a branch of the National Institutes of Health (NIH). The project, "New Approaches to Assess and Forestall Osteoarthritis in Injured Joints," is directed by Jody Buckwalter, an internationally recognized orthopedic surgeon with expertise in injury-induced osteoarthritis at UI, and involves researchers from all over the world.
Although joint injuries – such as dislocations, ligaments injuries and joint fractures – are known to cause post-traumatic osteoarthritis (PTOA), the biological and mechanical processes that underlie development and progression of osteoarthritis following injury are not well understood. This lack of understanding has seriously hampered progress toward preventing PTOA.
The goal of the grant is to discover the basic mechanisms that lead to PTOA and target those mechanisms to prevent the development and progression of the disease.
The portion of the grant for which Homandberg is an investigator is co-directed by UI's James Martin, who is well-recognized for his work on in vitro models of PTOA.
"To be included in this grant represents major recognition for the quality of the investigations we have done here at the UND medical school," Homandberg said. "It is a tremendous honor to be working with scientists who have earned an outstanding worldwide reputation."
The collaborative project, which focuses on a major pathway of cartilage damage, is evidence of significant recognition for work conducted by Homandberg, who discovered the pathway and who has guided research on it at the UND medical school by his associates, Danping Guo, Lei Ding and Chang Liu. Ding, who recently earned the Ph.D. degree under the mentorship of Homandberg, joined the UI research team last summer.
Homandberg's work will involve a basic science project exploring how cells within a joint respond to injury and investigating the mechanisms by which an injury releases molecules that cause further damage. A better understanding of these biologic processes may help researchers devise interventions to prevent or alleviate PTOA.
PTOA accounts for about 12 percent of all osteoarthritis, which itself is among the most common causes of pain, disability and economic loss. It is estimated that about six million Americans have PTOA and that the condition annually costs about $3 billion in direct medical costs and nearly $9 billion in indirect costs, including lost wages.
With the $7.5 million in NIH funds, UI has established the Center of Research Translation for post-traumatic osteoarthritis, the joint degeneration, pain and stiffness that develops after joint injury.
The central theme of the UI studies is that joint injuries initiate a sequence of biologic and, in some instances, mechanical events that lead to PTOA, and interventions that block or minimize these events will form the basis of new and improved treatments for injured joints.
"If we can discover the basic mechanisms that lead to PTOA and discover ways to prevent the development of osteoarthritis following a joint injury, we will most likely be able to stop other forms of osteoarthritis," Buckwalter said. "So our research has implications for everyone with this debilitating condition."