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Loeser Earns $1.9 Million MERIT Award from NIH

Grant Will Fund Osteoarthritis Research

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. – Aug. 14, 2012 –Richard F. Loeser Jr., M.D., section chief of molecular medicine and professor of internal medicine at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center, has earned a prestigious MERIT grant award from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) worth nearly $1.9 million.

Loeser, who is the Dorothy Rhyne and Willard Duke Kimbrell Professor of Arthritis and Rheumatology, received the award from the NIH’s National Institute for Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases. The funding, which totals $1,896,203, will be applied to Loeser’s research in osteoarthritis. It will provide for five years of research funding, with the potential for three to five years of additional funding.

MERIT stands for Method to Extend Research in Time, and the awards are presented to a few outstanding researchers to recognize their “consistent and excellent contributions to scientific knowledge.” The grants support “investigators whose research competence and productivity are distinctly superior and who are highly likely to continue to perform in an outstanding manner,” according to the NIH website.

MERIT awards provide long-term stable funding support, foster continued scientific creativity, and minimize the administrative burdens associated with preparing and submitting grant applications. Researchers do not apply for MERIT awards. Candidates are identified by program staff and members of the relevant NIH section as research grant applications are being reviewed.

Loeser said the grant will advance basic research in osteoarthritis, specifically the research project “Integrin Function in Cartilage.” He called the work a team effort that includes co-investigators Cristina Furdui, Ph.D., associate professor of molecular medicine; Leslie Poole, Ph.D., professor of biochemistry; and Michael Callahan, Ph.D., associate professor of orthopaedics.

“Osteoarthritis is the most common cause of chronic disability in older adults, but treatments to slow the progression of the disease are lacking,” Loeser said. “The results from this project will provide new information about basic mechanisms relevant to cartilage breakdown in osteoarthritis. We need this information in order to discover new targets and develop new therapies for slowing or stopping the progression of the disease.” 

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