Bone Research Showcased as Vibrant, Vital at UAMS

By Amy Widner

That was the resounding theme of the Showcase of Medical Discoveries: A Focus on Bone Research, held Jan. 22 at UAMS. The collaboration-building event brought together musculoskeletal researchers from across campus and the University of Arkansas System.

“Bone health is something that touches the whole life cycle, from childhood to advanced age, and bone health research at UAMS is occurring at all levels, from the basic sciences all the way to direct clinical applications and the best of translational science,” said Shuk-Mei Ho, Ph.D., vice chancellor for research and innovation at UAMS.

Dr. Ho at mic

Shuk-Mei Ho, Ph.D., vice chancellor for research and innovation, welcomes the crowd.Bryan Clifton

“Translational” science refers to research that goes beyond the laboratory and leads to new treatments, procedures or medical devices that have real-world impact on patients. Ho praised the bone researchers gathered for the event as “one of the most innovative, high-powered, translational research groups that we have ever seen.”

Ho acknowledged some of the figures underpinning that synergy:

Researchers taking selfie

Teresita Bellido, Ph.D.; (from left) takes a photo with Joseph Goellner, M.S.; Charles O’Brien, Ph.D.; and Patty Wight, Ph.D., during the showcase.Bryan Clifton

Ho also welcomed back to UAMS Teresita Bellido, Ph.D., who has been named professor and chair of the Department of Physiology and Biophysics in the UAMS College of Medicine. Although Bellido does not take up the post until July 1, she was on campus for the showcase. A distinguished expert in osteoporosis and bone metastasis in her own right, she displayed several posters from her laboratory.

Ho also highlighted the collaborative spirit of research that UAMS shares with the Central Arkansas Veterans Healthcare System, Arkansas Children’s Hospital and University of Arkansas at Fayetteville, all of which were represented with research posters at the showcase.

Researcher gesturing at poster

Dipankar Choudhury, Ph.D., a post-doctoral researcher from the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville, showcases his team’s work on engineering better joint replacements.Bryan Clifton

O’Brien reminded the researchers to take advantage of UAMS’ core facilities, centralized groups of highly specialized research laboratories or analytical services that allow investigators access to technologies and services not available in their own labs. He also invited those interested in bone research to a standing Friday morning meeting that has served as a platform for idea development and information sharing for 25 years.

“I’m really impressed by the number of musculoskeletal researchers we have here — it’s really kind of amazing for such a small set of campuses,” O’Brien said. “One thing that I hope can bring us all together is the Center for Musculoskeletal Disease Research and the funding and resources that we have available for anyone who is interested in this line of research.”

Researcher at poster

Image by Bryan Clifton

Ryan Porter, Ph.D., is a project leader in the Center for Musculoskeletal Disease Research and an assistant professor in the Department of Orthopaedic Surgery and the Division of Endocrinology. He is studying how the healing process for injuries like bone breaks and fractures could be sped up or improved by harnessing the power of extracellular vesicles, which are particles that already occur naturally in the body.

Porter said events like the showcase are great for junior faculty like himself who are still networking on campus and learning about the resources available.

University leadership posing for photo

Stavros C. Manolagas, M.D., Ph.D., (from left), director of the Division of Endocrinology and Metabolism and director of the Center for Osteoporosis and Metabolic Bone Disease Disorders; Teresita Bellido, Ph.D., incoming professor and chair of the Department of Physiology and Biophysics; and Provost Stephanie Gardner, Pharm.D., Ed.D., who is also chief academic officer and chief strategy officer pause for a photo at the event.Bryan Clifton

“I would like to emphasize how important it is that the university at the highest level would recognize and highlight the research that we’re doing in the musculoskeletal diseases, because the truth is they have wide implications on human health, quality of life and cost burden on society as a whole,” Porter said.

Nearby, Jin-Ran Chen, M.D., Ph.D., an associate professor in the Department of Pediatrics who directs the Bone Development Lab at the Arkansas Children’s Nutrition Center (ACNC), presented his U.S. Department of Agriculture/Agricultural Research Service-funded work on using blueberries to promote bone growth. In his latest study, Chen was able to determine the specific substances in the blueberries and the biological interactions they cause to encourage bone growth. The next step is already underway: developing food-based products containing these substances with the help of the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville, to taste-test with children to prepare for clinical studies.

“It’s exciting work that is about 11 years in the making, and as you can see, it has involved many of the elements that Dr. Ho mentioned: basic science, collaboration, and translating the discoveries into something that is available to promote bone health,” Chen said.

Researcher gesturing at poster

Image by Bryan Clifton

Across the crowded room, there were posters from Min Zou, Ph.D., a professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering at the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville, who had been invited to participate because of her work using engineering to improve orthopaedic implants like knee replacements and create nano-sized scaffolding that can be used to re-grow limbs. Zou is collaborating with Smeltzer for the next steps in the projects to ensure that any products developed have robust protection against bone infection.

“Events like these are very nice for us because there is a two-sided benefit: We get to showcase what we’ve been working on, and it’s important for us to meet others interested in this field in order to develop those collaborative relationships like what we have with Dr. Smeltzer,” said Dipankar Choudhury, Ph.D., a post-doctoral researcher in Zou’s lab.

The Showcase of Medical Discoveries is an ongoing series hosted by the Division of Research and Innovation with the goal of fostering communication between investigators and increasing awareness of exciting research areas. This was the 27th event in the series.