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Critical Research for the 21st Century
Musculoskeletal disorders and diseases continue to be a leading cause of disability in the United States. After the age of 25-30 years our muscles and bones both lose their mass and consequently their function is unfavorably altered. The loss of bone – osteoporosis, and muscle – sarcopenia, are among the most important global medical problems we face today.
- More than 1 in 4 Americans have a musculoskeletal condition requiring medical attention.
- Annual direct and indirect costs for bone and joint health care $849 billion – 7.7 percent of the U.S. gross domestic product.
- Musculoskeletal research is currently less than 2 percent of the National Institutes of Health budget, while the burden of musculoskeletal conditions is expected to escalate in the next 10-20 years because of an aging population and sedentary lifestyles.
- More research is urgently required if the economic burden of America’s poor musculoskeletal health is to be contained or lowered.
The Federal Government declared the decade of 2002-2011 to be The Bone and Joint Decade. It was created because of the impression that musculoskeletal disease was important – but not urgent. Therefore, it was frequently overlooked and often inadequately supported. They stated that the key to the success was the development of the development of new collaborative partnerships between patient advocacy groups, musculoskeletal associations, care providers, researchers and industry. We agree. We believe that we must first start with building collaborations within research groups at the Johns Hopkins University.
In the spring of 2009, the American Association of Bone and Mineral Research held a topical meeting on the connections between bone, fat, and the brain. This illustrates how musculoskeletal research bridges different systems and that researchers from different disciplines may be called on to provide their perspective of how the body functions in healthy as well as pathologic states.
Johns Hopkins has a rich history of engaging in high-impact musculoskeletal research. Despite Hopkins strength in this area, we do not have a truly comprehensive and integrated research effort in musculoskeletal diseases. One barrier to this interdisciplinary model has been that researchers have operated in different schools, departments and divisions - often not cognizant of the array of musculoskeletal research within the wall of Hopkins. Another barrier has been a limited understanding of the myriad physiological systems that control and are controlled by the musculoskeletal system. As we, the investigators that study the musculoskeletal system, understand the connections and interdependence of muscle, bones, joints, the immune system, neuroendocrinology, the vascular system and metabolism; we are compelled to move beyond our conventional knowledge and collaborate with scientist with broad expertise. Discovery in modern biomedical research institutions seldom results from small groups working in isolation but instead requires collaborative scientists working in teams. This type of multi-disciplinary research dedicated to the pursuit of a common disease problem is the model of successful research teams now and in the future. In this environment, broad expertise is leveraged to solve problems that lead to creative approaches to understanding disease, developing treatments and improving diagnostic tests.
The Musculoskeletal P&F Grant Program
Our goal is to identify investigators with expertise and interest in musculoskeletal disease, promote novel research approaches, encourage collaboration, raise visibility of musculoskeletal research at Hopkins, and attract young investigators into the field.
To begin to accomplish these goals, we have established a program that provides competitive pilot and feasibility grants in musculoskeletal research through philanthropic resources garnered by Department of Orthopaedic Surgery. We are initiating the program to provide support for promising investigators with innovative ideas relating to pathogenic mechanisms, basic science, and therapeutic approaches related to bone and muscle research. Scientific areas targeted for development through these grants will include but are not limited to stem cell biology, nanotechnology and bioengineering, angiogenesis, and genomic and epigenetics.
The ultimate goal of this program is to apply for a National Institutes of Health P30 grant for continuing support of this pilot grant program and tosupport cores for musculoskeletal researchers.