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Creating a Hub for Musculoskeletal Research: The Orland Bethel Family Musculoskeletal Research Center at the University of Pittsburgh

January 16, 2024

The University of Pittsburgh and The Department of Orthopaedic Surgery has established the Orland Bethel Family Musculoskeletal Research Center (BMRC), a groundbreaking initiative bolstered by a generous $25 million gift from the Orland Bethel Family Foundation and matched by the University of Pittsburgh. This $50 million endeavor will transform the field of musculoskeletal research at Pitt and UPMC.

Joon LeeThe BMRC was envisioned and is led by founding executive director Joon Y. Lee, MD. Dr. Lee is the Orland Bethel Professor in Spine Surgery in the Department of Orthopaedic Surgery and clinical director of the Ferguson Laboratory for Orthopaedic and Spine Research.

The new center stands out in its approach to musculoskeletal research. Unlike traditional research centers that focus predominantly on basic science, the BMRC is a blend of basic, bench-top science and clinical research groups and priorities. This structure is intended to foster translational research, ensuring discoveries are swiftly and effectively translated into clinical practice at the bedside.

Dr. Lee emphasizes the new center's commitment to representing a broad range of musculoskeletal areas in its work.

“From spine and shoulder issues to knee joints, cartilage, and tendons, we’re taking a comprehensive approach to the study of the musculoskeletal system that ensures that the center's research and findings will have wide-reaching implications across the spectrum of musculoskeletal medicine,” says Dr. Lee.

All About Collaboration

Collaboration lies at the heart of the new BMRC. The center while led by the Department of Orthopaedic Surgery, includes collaborators and labs from across the University – areas like the Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, and more, to ensure a multidisciplinary approach.

A key component of this collaborative spirit is the Bethel Research Fellows program, designed to foster external collaboration and outreach by supporting up to four investigators annually from outside institutions.

“Our goal is to foster and support talented, driven, forward-thinking researchers – no matter where they are from – to achieve their goals of improving the care of patients facing any number of musculoskeletal conditions,” says Dr. Lee.

The BMRC also is prioritizing education, with plans to offer grants to undergraduates and medical students.

“It’s about creating that spark of early interest in musculoskeletal research that we know will ultimately lead to novel discoveries and better patient care in the future,” says Dr. Lee.

This educational aspect of the BMRC will extend to hosting annual conferences and seminars for scientists to collaborate and share their work, alongside the eventual establishment of a BMRC journal accessible online.

Areas of Research Emphasis

The research conducted at the BMRC, while broad, will focus on critical areas such as understanding molecular and genetic mechanisms in spine-related diseases, the impact of gender and age on musculoskeletal disorders, developing therapies for osteoarthritis, and leveraging technology like machine learning in orthopaedic applications.

A 30-Year Dream Realized

The BMRC will officially open in 2024. Its creation is a dream realized for Dr. Lee, who has long envisioned creating a research institute that mirrors the comprehensive and collaborative nature of renowned institutions like the NIH or the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.

“What is becoming the BMRC has been in the back of my mind for 30 years,” says Dr. Lee. “That vision is now a reality, one supported by significant funding, institutional backing, and the enthusiasm of our medical community in Pittsburgh. I cannot wait for what discoveries and progress we are going to make in the decades ahead.”

A Transformational Leap

The BMRC represents not just a leap in musculoskeletal research, but a paradigm shift in how such research is conducted and applied at Pitt and UPMC. With its blend of basic and clinical research, collaborative framework, and educational focus, the BMRC is poised to become a leading force in the field, translating musculoskeletal research breakthroughs into practical, impactful treatments for patients.

Learn more about the BMRC by visiting the new website.