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Forging Connections

Einstein Hosts Musculoskeletal Symposium

Whether the cause is overuse, disease or aging, musculoskeletal problems — affecting bones, joints and tendons — produce pain and suffering for countless individuals. For example, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention regards arthritis as the most common cause of disability in the United States, affecting more than 21 million adults. In addition, damage to musculoskeletal tissue, such as bone, tendons and cartilage, is a significant cause of increased death risk among those with diabetes and cardiovascular disorders. As our population ages, these and other related conditions will become more common, leading to increased healthcare cost and making the need for innovative treatments critically important.

Einstein’s inaugural Madaleine and Arnold Penner Musculoskeletal Repair and Regeneration Symposium encouraged dialogue about orthopaedic research.
Dr. Neil Cobelli presents Madaleine and Arnold Penner with a plaque recognizing their support of the symposium. They are flanked by Dr. Herb Sun (left) and Dr. David Hirsh.
This past fall, Einstein hosted its inaugural Arnold and Madaleine Penner Musculoskeletal Repair and Regeneration Symposium, held  in the Price Center/Block Research Pavilion's Ethel & Samuel Lefrak Auditorium, to promote a better understanding of musculoskeletal biology and its various challenges, and to encourage dialogue about current approaches to identifying effective new treatments and cures.

"We wanted to foster an atmosphere in which clinical and basic researchers could interact and connect with one another, said Dr. Hui (Herb) Sun, associate professor of orthopaedic surgery and radiation oncology, who served as the symposium's scientific director and organized the event with Dr. Neil Cobelli, professor and chair of orthopaedic surgery and chair of that department at its University Hospital, Montefiore Medical Center. "Our hope was that basic scientists would connect with those doing clinical investigations, identifying colleagues for future research projects. Such collaboration could lead to new applications of repair and regeneration techniques, which could then be translated into clinical use."

Winners of Young Investigator Awards (from left): Da Jing (Columbia University), Jonathan Bourne (Hospital for Special Surgery) and Michelle Gupta (College of the City of New York)
Winners of Young Investigator Awards (from left): Da Jing (Columbia University), Jonathan Bourne (Hospital for Special Surgery) and Michelle Gupta (College of the City of New York)
The daylong event offered presentations by 26 leading researchers and physician-scientists from New York-area medical institutions, including Einstein, New York University, Columbia University, Mount Sinai, Weill Cornell, Hospital for Special Surgery and The City College of New York. It also featured a poster session highlighting the work of 35 students and postdoctoral fellows from the participating institutions, who competed for Young Investigator Awards. The day concluded with a dinner in Lubin Dining Hall, where the symposium organizers honored Arnold and Madaleine Penner for their vision and generous support.

The couple was presented with a special plaque by Dr. David Hirsh, associate professor of orthopaedic surgery and president of the orthopaedic alumni association, who noted, "For the many years I've known you, you've had an abiding interest in fixing what's broken, to make the world a little better." Mr. Penner, who serves on Einstein's Board of Overseers and on the executive board of Einstein's Men's Division, has a personal interest in the field of orthopaedic surgery. "David and I were talking about orthopaedic surgery and the need for funding to promote vigorous research in this area," he said, pointing to his bad knee – resulting from a mishap on a motorcycle. "Soon, there may be a process to fix this without an operation. The research discussed here today has the potential to regenerate the whole body, so to be a part of it is special."

In addition, Dr. Hirsh, who also is director of the joint replacement service at Montefiore, noted the orthopaedic research program's rapid growth under the directorship of Dr. Sun. "We've never had so many interdisciplinary, world-leading scientists under the same roof to talk about advances in our field," he said.

Members of the conference faculty, representing all participating institutions, pose by a bust of Albert Einstein
Members of the conference faculty, representing all participating institutions, pose by a bust of Albert Einstein
Dr. Cobelli agreed, noting, "We've had osteoarthritis and joint replacement surgeons meeting with basic scientists, discussing the potential uses of stem cells and other innovative technologies to regenerate musculoskeletal tissues and exchanging ideas about future treatment approaches for osteoarthritis. By bringing so many in our field together with the bench scientists, the groundwork has been laid for partnerships that could lead to novel treatments for repairing tendons, muscles and bone."

The symposium will take place annually, with plans to widen its scope. "Many of the speakers today told us there's no forum like this for our field of study in the U.S., let alone the world," said Dr. Sun. "We've focused on the metropolitan area now, but within the coming years we intend to include participants from around the world."

"Einstein has been at the forefront of many scientific endeavors," said Dr. Cobelli, "and this is just another example of how Dr. Spiegel and Dr. Burns have enabled the faculty to be leaders in a field of science that hasn't had this kind of collaborative effort. Close to 15 percent of healthcare dollars are spent on musculoskeletal disease, but it receives less than 2 percent of research dollars, so collaborative efforts are critical to moving the field forward."

Editor's Note: The second annual Arnold and Madaleine Penner Musculoskeletal Repair and Regeneration Symposium will be held in the Price Center/Block Research Pavilion on Thursday, October 10, 2013. In addition to returning 22 of the founding faculty members from the 2012 symposium, the upcoming symposium will include four new faculty members — from University of Pennsylvania, SUNY Stony Brook, University of Connecticut and North Shore-LIJ — who will share their research experiences. Winners of the Young Investigator Awards from the inaugural event also will present short talks on their research and current progress.

Posted on: Wednesday, June 19, 2013