NEWS | October 3, 2012

UC Davis bone health expert to lead new research initiative

Focus will be on understanding sex differences in musculoskeletal conditions


Nancy E. Lane, professor of internal medicine and the endowed chair of Healthy Aging and Geriatrics at the UC Davis School of Medicine, has been awarded a $7.2 million federal grant to establish a specialized research center at UC Davis' Sacramento campus to explore the sex differences related to osteoporosis, carpal tunnel syndrome, osteoarthritis, and kyphosis (a condition causing over-curvature of the upper back).

Diagram of painful knee © iStockphoto
Diagram of painful knee

Lane, who is one of the nation's leading experts in arthritis, osteoporosis and bone health, will lead the collaborative project, which is largely sponsored by the Office of Research on Women's Health at the National Institutes of Health (NIH). The new center's overarching goal is to inform and transform preventive efforts and clinical practice in the diagnosis and treatment of musculoskeletal conditions in both sexes. Lane's groundbreaking translational research has identified active agents in bone that improve bone strength, defined the genetics of musculoskeletal diseases and advanced new therapies for steroid-induced osteoporosis.

"Musculoskeletal diseases are the most frequent ailments that primary-care physicians are now seeing in clinics throughout the United States," said Lane, who also recently received a $20 million state grant to develop a stem cell therapy for osteoporosis patients and test its effectiveness in clinical trials. "These diseases are not only associated with aging, particularly osteoporosis and osteoarthritis, but they occur more often in women than in men and yet the biologic explanation for this sex difference remains unclear. We plan to vigorously pursue that question and transform both our current preventive efforts and clinical treatments."

The new center is launching four related studies led by researchers at UC Davis and UC San Francisco. Ellen Gold, professor and chair of the Department of Public Health Sciences at UC Davis, will oversee epidemiology and biostatistics for the project. Expert investigators will conduct studies to explore four specific musculoskeletal syndromes that are known to differ by sex:

  • Peak bone mass: Wei Yao, assistant adjunct professor of internal medicine, will oversee a mechanistic study in progesterone receptors that are related to regulation or influence of peak bone mass.
  • Carpal tunnel syndrome: Jay Han, associate professor of physical medicine and rehabilitation, will direct a prospective clinical cohort study using a novel diagnostic technology for diagnosing and treating carpal tunnel syndrome.
  • Osteoarthritis of the knee: Barton Wise, assistant professor of internal medicine, is leading an epidemiologic imaging study to assess bone shape and its influence on the development, severity and prognosis of osteoarthritis of the knee.
  • Kyphosis: Wendy Katzman, assistant clinical professor of physical medicine and rehabilitative science at UC San Francisco, leads a study team that will use a randomized clinical trial to examine exercise therapy outcomes in treating kyphosis.

"What's so exciting is that this new initiative brings together expertise in arthritis, bone biology, physical therapy and rehabilitative medicine," said Lane. "We've established a team that has the potential to make a real difference in the treatment of chronic conditions through interdisciplinary research and transformational clinical care."

The new center at UC Davis is part of the Specialized Centers of Research on Sex and Gender Factors Affecting Women's Health, which was established in partnership with the NIH Office of Research on Women's Health. The specialized centers' program supports scientists who are associated with one or more major medical centers and conducting research that integrates basic, clinical and translational research. The UC Davis-led project is co-funded by the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases.

UC Davis Health System is improving lives and transforming health care by providing excellent patient care, conducting groundbreaking research, fostering innovative, interprofessional education, and creating dynamic, productive partnerships with the community. The academic health system includes one of the country's best medical schools, a 619-bed acute-care teaching hospital, a 1000-member physician's practice group and the new Betty Irene Moore School of Nursing. It is home to a National Cancer Institute-designated comprehensive cancer center, an international neurodevelopmental institute, a stem cell institute and a comprehensive children's hospital. Other nationally prominent centers focus on advancing telemedicine, improving vascular care, eliminating health disparities and translating research findings into new treatments for patients. Together, they make UC Davis a hub of innovation that is transforming health for all. For more information, visit