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CU Researchers Awarded Grant for Musculoskeletal Research Training Program | CU School of Medicine

CU Researchers Awarded Grant for Musculoskeletal Research Training Program

The new training program will be the only such program in the Rocky Mountain region.

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Written by Mark Couch on August 4, 2022

Researchers from the University of Colorado School of Medicine have been awarded a federal grant to run an interdisciplinary training program in musculoskeletal research. The award provides $1.58 million in funding to support four predoctoral students and two postdoctoral trainees over the next five years.

The program directors are Michael Zuscik, PhD, and Karin Payne, PhD, who are researchers in the Department of Orthopedics on the CU Anschutz Medical Campus. The program will include 29 faculty members from 18 departments, divisions, and centers on the four campuses in the CU system.

“This grant will help us build on the cutting-edge research we’re doing, with a common goal of supporting education,” said Zuscik, who is the Mack Clayton Professor of Orthopedics, the department’s vice chair of research, and the director of the Colorado Program for Musculoskeletal Research. “We hope to eliminate barriers and make stronger connections between faculty members. Creating new research happens when faculty have interactions in ways that might not otherwise happen.”

“This grant will help us build on the cutting-edge research we’re doing, with a common goal of supporting education.” - Michael Zuscik, PhD

Zuscik was recruited to the Anschutz Medical Campus in 2018 from the University of Rochester. His laboratory focuses on factors contributing to osteoarthritis and his research has been continuously funded for more than 17 years. He has also been a dedicated educator, regularly lecturing in undergraduate and graduate courses, serving as a mentor to numerous trainees who are now independent investigators, and contributing to key textbooks used to train orthopedics residents.

The new training program, funded by the National Institutes of Health’s National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases, will be the only such program in the Rocky Mountain region. It will provide formal educational components, including a musculoskeletal science curriculum, a visiting scientist seminar series, work-in-progress meetings, and an annual symposium. The programming will pair trainees with mentors providing training from bench to bedside.

“This comprehensive training program will develop a new generation of musculoskeletal researchers who have a deep understanding of basic musculoskeletal biology and are able to apply their knowledge in clinical science,” said Payne, associate professor of orthopedics and director of education in the Colorado Program for Musculoskeletal Research. “Mentoring strengthens our work and allows us to pay forward the support we’ve received from our mentors.”

Payne’s research focuses on regenerative medicine approaches to treat cartilage injuries, and her laboratory group is developing potential treatments that involve stem cell and growth factor augmented biomaterials, as well as 3-D printed implants for cartilage regeneration. In addition to lecturing in various graduate courses and developing and directing a course in the Department of Biomedical Engineering on the Anschutz Campus, Payne has mentored numerous graduate students, postdoctoral trainees, medical students, and orthopedic residents since joining the faculty in 2012.

Based on their mutual passion for education, Zuscik and Payne decided to pursue an Institutional Training Grant, known as a T32 at the NIH. Together, they constructed the program and assembled the application for the grant in 2021. The formal start of the training program is this summer, with matriculation of the inaugural trainees in October.

Developing institutional partnerships is also a key part of the training program. The CU PhD-granting departments participating in the program are:

CU Anschutz Medical Campus

  • Cancer Biology
  • Cell Biology, Stem Cells, and Development
  • Human Medical Genetics and Genomics
  • Immunology
  • Pharmacology
  • Rehabilitation Science
  • Bioengineering

CU Boulder

  • Chemical and Biological Engineering
  • Mechanical Engineering

CU Denver

  • Mechanical Engineering

UCCS (University of Colorado Colorado Springs)

  • Mechanical and Aeronautical Engineering

In addition to the other campuses in the CU system, this grant will also expand opportunities for trainees from neighboring institutions who can access the educational content: Colorado State University, the Steadman Philippon Research Institute, Colorado School of Mines, and the University of Denver. Importantly, in addition to the trainees selected to be seated on the grant, this program will also contribute to the education of predoctoral and postdoctoral trainees not seated in the program, in addition to undergraduates, technical staff, and orthopedic surgery residents.

“Receiving this training grant is part of our larger vision to expand the scope of musculoskeletal research at CU,” said Zuscik. “Our department leadership and the School of Medicine have jointly invested to recruit experienced faculty to provide a strong foundation that led to this grant. Since 2018, we’ve added several global leaders on our campus, and developed the core technology resources they need to be successful here. We are just at the beginning of our journey, and we are excited to see it grow to national prominence with the funding of this important training program.

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Karin Payne, PhD

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Michael Zuscik, PhD