March 23, 2018

Myeloma Institute Researcher to Help Launch, Develop Bone Disease Center at UAMS

March 22, 2018 | Niels Weinhold, Ph.D., will lead one of four projects in the Centers of Biomedical Research Excellence (COBRE) grant of $11.3 million awarded to Professor Charles A. O’Brien, Ph.D., to establish and develop the Center for Musculoskeletal Disease Research at UAMS.

The center will focus on the molecular and genetic analysis of musculoskeletal diseases and conditions that involve the skeleton as part of their disease process, such as multiple myeloma, in order to gain a better understanding of their underlying causes and to support the development of novel therapies.

O’Brien, a professor in the Department of Internal Medicine-Endocrinology in the College of Medicine, will serve as the director and principal investigator of the center. He is an internationally recognized leader in the field of bone remodeling (the body’s continuous replacement of old bone tissue by new bone tissue) and the development of using mice to study human musculoskeletal disease.

The COBRE grant of federal funds over five years comes from the National Institute of General Medical Sciences branch of the National Institutes of Health (NIH). The program’s goal is to create multidisciplinary, collaborative and synergistic research centers in 23 states and Puerto Rico where NIH funding has been historically low.

Weinhold, an assistant professor in the Department of Internal Medicine and director of genetics at the Myeloma Institute, is studying why some forms of myeloma (cancer that develops in the bone marrow) are more aggressive than others.

Through his project, “Understanding the Negative Prognostic Impact of Intraosseous Focal Lesions in Multiple Myeloma,” Weinhold aims to provide insight into the likely outcome of the disease by studying the focal lesions and how they contribute to drug resistance and relapse. Focal lesions are tumors occurring in a defined area within the bone marrow. He will use that knowledge to develop more effective therapies to increase cure rates in myeloma.

“It will allow us to study tumor cells in their microenvironment in focal lesions at the single-cell level,” Weinhold said of the funding. “Furthermore, we will have the opportunity to study the impact of lesion-specific mutations in animal models of multiple myeloma.”

The funding allows a diverse group of people to work together as a team and produce science that is more than the sum of the parts, O’Brien said. The $11.3 million represents Phase 1 of the COBRE grant in direct and indirect costs. With approval, COBRE grants can be renewed for up to three phases, totaling up to $30 million in funding and support for numerous researchers who are early in their careers and have yet to secure independent research funding.

“Dr. Weinhold’s project was a clear strength of our COBRE application,” said O’Brien. “He’s a genuinely innovative investigator and that’s a benefit not only for his project, but also for other members of the center. Our hope going forward is that interactions among these young investigators will lead to overall greater success in understanding diseases that affect the musculoskeletal system.”

Cancer-induced bone disease has become an important area of research at the UAMS Myeloma Institute, where Maurizio Zangari, M.D., an internationally recognized expert in myeloma, specializes in myeloma bone disease.

In addition to O’Brien’s grant, UAMS faculty lead five other COBRE centers at UAMS and the Arkansas Children’s Research Institute.