Musculoskeletal Research Focus Area (MRFA) at NEOMED
The Musculoskeletal Research Focus Area (MRFA) primarily studies bone, muscles and cartilage as they change in response to aging, movement and disease. This group of eight researchers, soon to be expanded to nine, within the Department of Anatomy and Neurobiology, led by Lisa Cooper, Ph.D., uses molecular, biomechanical and evolutionary methods to understand the function of the human body.
The lab of Rebecca German, Ph.D., studies how modes of suckling in infant pigs determine body muscle and fat proportions. Within her lab, infant pigs are bottle-fed with nipples that differ in their resistance to flow, making the pigs work harder or less hard at getting milk. Dr. German’s lab determined that pigs that had to work harder at feeding also had larger muscles and a better body condition than pigs for which the milk flowed easily. This work is likely to have serious impacts on designs of nipples for human infants in the future, as easier feeding does not make stronger babies. You can hear more about Dr. German’s other research in an interview with WKSU radio here.
The lab of Jesse Young, Ph.D., studies how mammalian bones, muscles and joints manage the forces required to move through complex environments from the jungles of Africa to the woods of Northeast Ohio. The acrobatics that monkeys display as they leap between trees with perfectly planned landings are examples of supremely timed interactions between musculoskeletal and balance organs, and can be compared to human locomotion on two legs, another balancing act. Adding the study of primates in their natural environment to that in the lab allows the researchers the uncommon ability to understand how common certain locomotor behaviors are, and how they change throughout a lifespan. See more about Dr. Young’s work here.
The MRFA also plays a vital role in NEOMED’s mission to create transformational leaders by nurturing students at an early age. The country is in dire need for young people to enter STEM professions, and the National Science Foundation rewards such efforts by funding researchers who involve young people in their projects. The MRFA provides internships for high school seniors from the Bio-Med Science Academy located on the NEOMED campus, as well as summer internships to a growing group of medical students who have an interest in research. These students work alongside scientists and their teams to collect data and gain hands-on experience in the lab. They travel to conferences where they learn to present their research to greater audiences, as well as learn how to network and understand that advancing knowledge, in medicine and science, requires that people with different skills and backgrounds come together and learn from each other. Current MRFA projects supported by NSF include those of Dr. Young, Dr. Cooper, and Hans Thewissen, Ph.D., Distinguished University Professor of Anatomy.
The MRFA continues to grow with the addition of Mohammad “Yunus” Ansari, Ph.D., who joined NEOMED in the summer of 2022 as an assistant professor. Dr. Ansari studies the molecular pathways involved in the pathogenesis of osteoarthritis and identification of new treatments to help keep joints healthy.