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New $13.2-million bone and joint health research facility opens at Cumming School of Medicine

‘MoJo’ develops new technologies for prevention, early diagnosis and treatment of bone and joint conditions
September 9, 2016
McCaig Institute researchers Steven Boyd and Janet Ronsky at the newly opened centre for Mobility and Joint Health. Photos by Don Molyneaux for the University of Calgary

McCaig Institute researchers Steven Boyd and Janet Ronsky at the newly opened centre for Mobility and Joint Health. Photos by Don Molyneaux for the University of Calgary 

The new facility, housed and operated by the university’s McCaig Institute for Bone and Joint Health, features state-of-the-art imaging, movement assessment and diagnostic equipment that will be used by researchers to assess bone and joint health.

The new facility, housed and operated by the university’s McCaig Institute for Bone and Joint Health, features state-of-the-art imaging, movement assessment and diagnostic equipment that will be used by researchers to assess bone and joint health.

A new centre for Mobility and Joint Health at the Cumming School of Medicine opened this week that will allow researchers to develop new technologies for the prevention, early diagnosis and treatment of bone and joint conditions. 

"Science plays a valuable role in society. It provides us with ‎the evidence we need to make policy decisions that improve the environment, economy and our health,” says Minister of Science Kirsty Duncan. “The Government of Canada is proud to support this tremendous health sciences facility through the Canada Foundation for Innovation. New discoveries in bone and joint research will improve the quality of life for many Canadians."

The Mobility and Joint Health centre (MoJo) is located at the University of Calgary's Cumming School of Medicine and was established with support by a $4.7-million grant from the Canada Foundation for Innovation (CFI), a $4.7-million grant from the Province of Alberta, industry partners and private donors.

"We are proud to have invested in this facility, which will bring together researchers from fields as diverse as engineering and health to work on problems that have substantial impacts on quality of life,” says Minister of Economic Development and Trade Deron Bilous. “The province continues to invest in important health innovation to support better health outcomes while also working towards a more diverse economy.”

Bone and joint disorders widespread

Bone and joint disorders are one of the most common chronic conditions affecting Canadians and are the leading cause of disability world-wide. Evidence suggests that early diagnosis and intervention can positively influence the long-term outcome of these chronic diseases.

“The CFI is pleased to support such a visionary team in its efforts to create a world-class research environment that will improve the health of Canadians,” says Gilles Patry, president and CEO of the CFI. “This is a new-to-Canada, interactive system that will connect basic science discoveries with clinical needs and will lead to effective health-care solutions for these debilitating diseases that affect so many.”

The new facility, housed and operated by the university’s McCaig Institute for Bone and Joint Health, features state-of-the-art imaging, movement assessment and diagnostic equipment that will be used by researchers to assess bone and joint health. MoJo researchers will be guided by the clinical needs identified by Alberta Health Services, with the goal of turning research evidence into health-care solutions for Albertans.

Collaboration between four faculties

“The University of Calgary’s Centre for Mobility and Joint Health represents a huge stride in our multi-disciplinary approach to chronic medical conditions,” says Elizabeth Cannon, president and vice-chancellor of the University of Calgary. “Today marks the start of many exciting new collaborations as the Cumming School of Medicine, Schulich School of Engineering, and the faculties of Kinesiology and Veterinary Medicine unite in their commitment to prevent, diagnose and treat bone and joint conditions.”

“MoJo is unique because we bring so many diverse groups together, all working to develop personalized care options for the individual through research,” says Steven Boyd, PhD, director of the McCaig Institute. “We are a hub where physicians, basic scientists, biomedical engineers, patients and the Alberta health system, collaborate to keep Albertans moving.”

A number of faculties are contributing to this multidisciplinary project include the Cumming School of Medicine, Schulich School of Engineering, and the faculties of  Kinesiology and Veterinary Medicine.

A number of research projects are already underway in the MoJo:

Prevention

Research study taking place in the MoJo’s Bone Imaging Laboratory is looking at the effects of vitamin D supplements on bone health. Using high-resolution imaging equipment, scientists can look at the microstructure of bones and how they are affected by vitamin D levels.

Using a customized 3D imaging system, the Clinical Movement Assessment Lab in the MoJo is among a small handful in the world with the capacity to take high-speed images of joints while they are in motion. These motion patterns help researchers monitor changes in mobility, identifying risk factors early so that appropriate, patient-specific interventions can be developed before long term damage occurs.

Early, accurate diagnosis

A McCaig Institute research team has developed a series of blood tests that provide a specific immune fingerprint of autoimmune and rheumatic diseases, allowing physicians to diagnose lupus, rheumatoid arthritis and other inflammatory and autoimmune diseases much earlier in their development. Once the specific disease is identified, targeted treatment can begin to prevent or slow progression.

Novel treatments

Scientists and biomedical engineers in the MoJo are developing new treatments for arthritis that use a patient’s own stem cells to repair damaged cartilage. McCaig Institute researchers are working to determine which stem cells have the greatest repair potential, while also ensuring that these therapies pose no risks to patients suffering from arthritis.

Looking ahead

The MoJo aims to expand their infrastructure to support new clinical trials and research studies related to bone and joint disease or injury. “We have recently announced funding opportunities to stimulate the development of new research projects that will maximize the use of the new motion analysis, imaging and biomarker equipment in the MoJo,” says Boyd.

The McCaig Institute has prioritized MoJo as a fund development opportunity to further expand the research activities and outcomes.

The University of Calgary’s multidisciplinary Engineering Solutions for Health: Biomedical Engineering research strategy is focused on developing solutions for pressing health challenges in disease and injury prevention, diagnosis and treatments. We are also applying systems engineering principles to continuously improve the health system.