NEW: RI Hospital To Receive $10.8 Million for Joint Research

Monday, September 10, 2012


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Rhode Island Hospital announced one of the largest grants in its history today--$10.8 million from the NIH for research in cartilage and joint diseases. Photo: RI Hospital

Rhode Island Hospital’s Center of Biomedical Research Excellence (COBRE) in Skeletal Health and Repair has been awarded a $10.8 million grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), one of the largest grants in Rhode Island Hospital history. This grant, to be paid over five years, will fund studies of cartilage and joint health. This is the second phase of the study, COBRE was awarded an $11 million NIH grant for Phase I in 2007.

The leading cause of disability

Cartilage and joint diseases are a leading cause of disability nationally, affecting an estimated 46.4 million U.S. citizens each year. The COBRE for Skeletal Health and Repair at Rhode Island Hospital provides clinicians and research scientists the opportunity to work side-by-side to better understand how cartilage and joints are affected by injury, weight and other factors, and to develop treatments and preventative tactics for diseases such as arthritis, osteoporosis, bone developmental diseases and bone-related cancers.

“The research conducted at Rhode Island Hospital has a real, translational impact on our patients,” said Timothy J. Babineau, M.D., president and chief executive officer of Lifespan, and Rhode Island and The Miriam hospitals. “Our partnership with the Brown Medical School, and our efforts to attract the best and brightest minds have positioned both the hospital and the Lifespan system as leaders in medical research. And this $10.8 million grant from the National Institutes of Health recognizes and rewards the caliber of research being conducted at Rhode Island Hospital, and will help us to further our mission.”

Clinical, biological, engineering research

The new research projects encompass clinical, biological and engineering research, including analysis of the mechanical loading effects of long bone growth during skeletal development; the process by which joint cartilage degenerates in adult joint diseases; and novel strategies to harvest stem cells from fat tissues to repair bone.

“Rhode Island’s population is aging, due in no small part to the Baby Boomer generation,” said Qian Chen, Ph.D, principal investigator and director of cell and molecular biology and head of orthopedic biology at Rhode Island Hospital. “In addition to Baby Boomers’ active lives, we also have to take into consideration the obesity epidemic plaguing our country as weight can play a major role in the development of joint and cartilage disease. Strain on joints from excessive weight; injury or overuse of a joint can lead to diseases such as arthritis, osteoarthritis or other issues that may require surgery such as a knee or hip replacement.”

RI: higher incidence of cartilage and joint diseases

While there are an estimated 46.4 million people in the U.S. with cartilage and joint diseases, the number is statistically higher in Rhode Island. Nationally, 24 percent of women and 18 percent of men have cartilage joint diseases, which are often termed as arthritis. In Rhode Island, those numbers are 33 percent and 25 percent, respectively. By 2030, the number of persons with doctor-diagnosed arthritis is projected to increase by 40 percent over current levels to nearly 67 million, or 25 percent of the adult population nationally. 

“The NIH’s continued support of this program emphasizes the importance of this translational research,” said Peter Snyder, Ph.D, vice president and chief of research for Lifespan. “Millions of people are affected by cartilage and joint diseases, causing significant problems with their quality of life. Furthermore, the costs associated with arthritis treatment, its complications and the resulting disability are enormous. This research can help to develop treatments to repair these issues, keep costs down, and help patients lead more active lifestyles.”

“There is a shortage of new researchers, and this grant will help us to attract, train and mentor tomorrow’s principal investigators,” said Michael Ehrlich, M.D., chief of the department of orthopedics at Rhode Island and The Miriam hospitals. “There is a strong multi-disciplinary approach to this research, which is absolutely necessary to develop translational strategies for prevention and treatment of skeletal joint diseases. This very generous grant will go a long way toward helping us attract the best and brightest young researchers, and ultimately to develop treatments for these debilitating diseases.”


There are currently 84 COBRE research centers in the U.S., and Rhode Island Hospital’s COBRE is one of just two nationally focused on bone and joint diseases. The Rhode Island Hospital COBRE has the unique distinction of conducting research projects on both adult and pediatric skeletal health and diseases; basic research as well as clinical and translational research; and working toward developing repair and regeneration strategies using tissue engineering. 

Phase II of this COBRE research is a joint effort between the departments of orthopedics; medicine; and molecular biology, pharmacology, physiology and biotechnology at Rhode Island Hospital and The Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University. The main objective of Phase II is to sustain the success of Phase I by recruiting more promising junior investigators into the COBRE research programs, thereby further expanding and enhancing the base of skeletal research.

“This important program brings together RIH and Brown researchers from many disciplines,” said  Edward Wing, M.D., dean of medicine and biology at Brown University. "It's a great example of how public investment in research at a strong academic medical center is working to help millions of people live better lives.”

The grant was funded by the NIH funding agency, the National Institute of General Medical Science (NIGMS), grant number P20 GM 104937-06.


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