A federal grant of more than $11 million will provide five additional years of support to the Center for Musculoskeletal Disease Research led by Charles O’Brien, Ph.D., at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS).
The $11.5 million Centers of Biomedical Research Excellence (COBRE) Phase 2 grant from the National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS) branch of the National Institutes of Health follows a 2018 Phase 1 award of $11.3 million to establish the bone research center.
COBRE funding aims to help establish multidisciplinary, collaborative and synergistic research centers in states with lower rates of federal research funding.
“The long-term goal of the COBRE awards is to build self-sustaining centers of investigators focused on a research theme such as musculoskeletal diseases,” said O’Brien, a professor in the College of Medicine Department of Internal Medicine. “By the time we finish Phase 2, we will have achieved the critical mass of investigators that are independently funded but also collaborating with one another.”
With approval, COBRE grants can be renewed for up to three phases, representing almost $30 million in funding and support for numerous junior investigators. Bone conditions studied at the center include osteoporosis, osteoarthritis, bone-related cancers and joint repair.
O’Brien said his group produced 51 publications in peer-reviewed journals, including several high-impact studies in journals such as Nature Communications, eLife, Cancer Research, and JCI-Insight. The center’s researchers also submitted 33 applications for external grants, resulting in more than $9.2 million in funding.
The early-career investigators also made 99 presentations at national or international scientific meetings.
“This Phase 2 COBRE award is a testament to the Center for Musculoskeletal Disease Research and its high-quality research. It resoundingly affirms the paramount significance of mentorship in the career development of our junior faculty,” said Shuk-Mei Ho, Ph.D., UAMS vice chancellor for Research and Innovation. “The COBRE program has proven here and across the United States that it is a great catalyst for producing independently funded researchers who will conduct meaningful research for decades to come.”
Three of the center’s project leaders became independently funded, meaning they graduated from COBRE-funded grant support. They are:
- Elena Ambrogini, M.D., Ph.D., associate professor, College of Medicine Department of Internal Medicine-Endocrinology
- Jinhu Xiong, M.D., Ph.D., assistant professor, College of Medicine Department of Orthopaedic Surgery
- Ha-neui Kim, Ph.D., assistant professor, College of Medicine Department of Internal Medicine, Division of Endocrinology and Metabolism
“Their success as project leaders in Phase 1 was essential for the success of the entire program,” O’Brien said.
The COBRE also supports the center’s research with funding for four research cores with highly specialized equipment for bone research. They are:
- Genetic Models Core
- Histology Core
- Imaging Core
- Bioinformatics Core
The center hopes to receive Phase 3 funding, which only supports the research cores — no grants for individual researchers — meaning the COBRE award will be about half the amount provided in Phases 1 and 2.
“The goal for Phase 3, if we make it that far, is to help those cores become self-sustaining,” O’Brien said.