Overview of the STAR Awards:
In February 2015, NIAMS launched the Supplements to Advance Research, or STAR, awards program to provide additional support for early career-stage investigators. Supplemental funding provided by the STAR awards allows early-established investigators who have renewed their first NIAMS-funded R01 grant to pursue innovative and high-risk research within the broader scope of a current NIAMS-funded, peer-reviewed research project. The award also helps investigators to expand a single, structured research project into a broader multi-faceted research program. In July 2015, the NIAMS awarded STAR supplements to three investigators.
Anne-Marie Malfait, M.D., Ph.D., is an associate professor of biochemistry and medicine at Rush University. The goal of her NIAMS-funded research grant is to define the origins and molecular mechanisms of pain caused by osteoarthritis (OA) and to apply her results to identify innovative strategies to manage and treat OA pain. Osteoarthritis is by far the most common type of arthritis, affecting an estimated 27 million Americans age 25 and older. Using a mouse model with slow-onset, staged OA, Dr. Malfait is studying the link between joint damage and changes in pain-sensing neurons both in early pain events and in the transition to chronic pain. The STAR award will enable Dr. Malfait to use advanced imaging tools to investigate the expression and distribution of neuronal receptors involved in responding to joint damage and to map the sensory nerves in the knee during OA progression. The STAR funding will also allow her to extend the current studies to additional OA mouse models, enhancing the potential to translate her findings into clinical studies.
Yunzhi Yang, Ph.D., is an associate professor of orthopaedic surgery at Stanford University. Dr. Yang’s research focuses on using musculoskeletal tissue engineering to treat a range of injuries and diseases such as bony birth defects, large load-bearing bony defects, and dental and orthopaedic infections. His current NIAMS-funded project supports work to develop a microenvironment for bioengineered tissues that can be used in the repair of large bone defects. The STAR award will allow Dr. Yang to pursue research to identify genes involved in rapid bone growth, which ultimately may foster the development of approaches to promote accelerated bone regeneration.
Chunfeng Zhao, M.D., is a professor of biomedical engineering and orthopaedics at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester. Dr. Zhao’s work focuses on developing new interventions to improve outcomes of surgery for tendon and ligament injuries. His STAR award will extend his current research project on repair of flexor tendon injury—a common and difficult-to-treat type of hand trauma—to studies of tendon healing in the rotator cuff of the shoulder, using tissue engineering. The STAR award will facilitate Dr. Zhao’s transition from a single tissue engineering project to a broader research program in rotator cuff repair to restore shoulder function after injury.