Research and Impact

OMNI researcher searches for osteoarthritis treatment

Shouan Zhu, Ph.D., assistant professor and principal investigator in the Ohio Musculoskeletal and Neurological Institute at the Ohio University Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine, received support for identifying disease-modifying genes related to osteoarthritis. This $2.4 million grant from the Hevolution Foundation will allow his laboratory to identify potential therapeutic targets to prevent one of the most common musculoskeletal disorders affecting society today. Osteoarthritis, often related to the normal aging process in joints, can be exacerbated by any number of factors, including trauma, obesity, overuse injuries, and family history.

This grant allows Zhu and the members of his laboratory to conduct research on the role that protein malonylation or modification of amino acids, in several important metabolic pathways plays in osteoarthritis development during aging and obesity. In addition to studying human cartilage left over from knee replacement surgeries, the research team is using a mouse model for the studies, as rodent joints look and age similar to those of humans. Currently, the team is disabling genes of interest in the cartilage in mice, then letting them age to see if they are protected from osteoarthritis. The human cartilage is then used to validate the results from the mice study.

“Our next step is to validate the gene studies of our pre-clinical mice model, then in larger animals, and if everything goes as planned, leading to clinical trials in humans. But that’s still a long way off,” Zhu said.

Zhu says that though it’s hard to tell at this stage, he is optimistic about the research and is already thinking about what comes next.

This grant brings Zhu’s funding total to more than $3.5 million since beginning at OHIO just over three years ago. Zhu’s laboratory has also been supported by grants from the Arthritis National Research Foundation, the National Institutes of Health, the American Society for Bone and Mineral Research and the Rheumatology Research Foundation. Other OHIO researchers on the grant include Huanhuan Liu, PhD, research assistant professor, and Darlene Berryman, PhD, RD, LD, associate dean, research and innovation.

August 10, 2023
Staff reports