About one-half of adults will go to a doctor’s office at some point in their life seeking relief for a shoulder injury, chronic low back pain, or other musculoskeletal injury. A program that UT Southwestern launched last summer aims to advance research on musculoskeletal injuries and improve outcomes for these common injuries.
The Musculoskeletal and Sports Research Program, which started in May 2022, was created to advance research, expand collaboration across multiple disciplines, and encourage mentoring, said Director Nitin Jain, M.D., M.S.P.H., Professor of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation and Orthopaedic Surgery.
Lower back, knee, and shoulder injuries are the most common musculoskeletal injuries, Dr. Jain said. Sprained muscles and fractures also frequently occur. Although these conditions are widespread, a lot of confusion persists surrounding musculoskeletal injuries, he said.
“There is the misconception that research focuses on elite athletes who get sports injuries,” Dr. Jain said. “Most musculoskeletal injuries are not caused by trauma, but rather by wear and tear that happens over time.”
One of the goals of the program is to gain a better understanding of the mechanisms surrounding these injuries and why they occur.
“We really don’t understand why some people develop these injuries and others don’t,” Dr. Jain said. “There’s evidence that genetics plays a role, but we need to know more about what happens at the bone and muscle level.”
A collaborative effort
The Musculoskeletal and Sports Research Program fosters collaborations among departments including Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, Surgery, Orthopaedic Surgery, Plastic Surgery, Internal Medicine, Radiology, Physical Therapy, the Hamon Center for Regenerative Science and Medicine, and the Charles and Jane Pak Center for Mineral Metabolism and Clinical Research. About 15 faculty, staff, and students make up the core team. In addition, a group of about 30 collaborators and contributors is involved.
Members of the Musculoskeletal and Sports Research Program team in the Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation (from left): Sarah Landreau, Hannah Hickman, Jovana Valdez, Estefanie Garduno, Hemangi Dhole, Nitin Jain, M.D., M.P.S.H., Noah Puente, Mark Newman, Ph.D., Shannon Shiffer, and Ravi Prakash, Ph.D.
Mentoring junior investigators is another focus of the program, Dr. Jain said. “So often they get lost and don’t have the good mentoring structure that is needed to help them get independent,” he said.
Dr. Jain said he wants to build new synergies among investigators, engage trainees as they advance in their careers, and attract more premier researchers and physician-scientists to UT Southwestern.
Clinical trials underway
Rolled under this effort, UT Southwestern is currently leading the Arthroscopic Rotator Cuff Clinical Trial on shoulder injuries to find out whether surgery or physical therapy is the most effective treatment. Dr. Jain is the Principal Investigator (PI) on this national trial that launched in 2017. Eighteen institutions have been involved in the trial, with 13 currently active.
The patient’s age, size of the tear, and other factors are considered in determining the best way to treat this injury, Dr. Jain said.
A second study called cuffGEN that began in 2020 aims to understand the underlying genetic mechanism leading to rotator cuff disease and tendon disorders. Dr. Jain is the PI for this study as well, which currently involves six sites. Enrollment is open for both studies.
“These efforts will enable outstanding basic, translational, and clinical research that will ultimately improve patient care,” he said of the overarching Musculoskeletal and Sports Research Program.
Dr. Jain encourages anyone interested in learning more about the Program to Email Sarah Landreau, Program Manager, or call 214-645-9568.