Musculoskeletal Program

We rely on our musculoskeletal system not only for our daily activities but also for enriching our quality of life through engagement in sports, dance, and music. Injuries to the musculoskeletal system can take many forms, ranging from minor repetitive damage to severe traumatic injuries. Many of these injuries lead to chronic inflammation and degeneration as well as the other health comorbidities, including the loss of pain-free mobility.

In the HSCI MSK Disease Program, we apply our discoveries in stem cell and developmental biology to develop innovative solutions to musculoskeletal injury and disease using regenerative medicine-based approaches. The interdisciplinary research labs within the HSCI MSK program span the Harvard-affiliated Hospitals and Harvard University, and utilize diverse systems including human pluripotent stem cells, mouse, zebrafish, and preclinical large animal models.

What we explore:

  • The fundamental molecular, cellular, and biophysical mechanisms underlying musculoskeletal tissue biology and the etiology of disease to identify new targets for therapeutic development.
  • Our focus is on the unique and diverse tissues within the musculoskeletal system, including muscle, tendon, ligament, cartilage, meniscus, and bone. How do these tissues arise during development and how are they maintained throughout our lives? Recent developments in stem cell biology now allow us to design better ways to produce replacement tissues from iPSCs.
  • Our collaborations highlight the importance of understanding the integrative physiology of all the components of the musculoskeletal system, as their interdependence is a crucial part of maintaining overall health and function. Together, we are identifying ways to attenuate disease processes and promote repair or regenerate tissues at the site of injury or degeneration.

What we have achieved so far:

  • HSCI MSK Disease Program investigators are identifying new candidates for therapeutic treatments that prevent or reverse degeneration, improving the quality of the target tissue.
  • Collaborations among the labs of the HSCI MSK Disease Program have accelerated the use of stem cells for tissue-replacement strategies (for example, an articular cartilage project is in animal studies currently) and high-throughput screening platforms to identify drugs that promote cartilage, tendon and muscle repair.
  • Researchers are exploiting the fundamental mechanisms underlying tissue response to mechanical loading to develop new therapeutic solutions for musculoskeletal diseases, including osteoporosis, tendinopathy, and osteoarthritis.
  • HSCI researchers in collaboration with a biotechnology company are harnessing the power of gene editing to correct a genetic disease of the musculoskeletal system, Duchenne muscular dystrophy.
  • Identified circulating proteins that enable older muscle to repair more effectively like younger muscle.

The HSCI MSK Disease Program leverages the important connections among our basic musculoskeletal research, the clinical capabilities of the Harvard-affiliated hospitals, and the development know-how of the Boston biotechnology community. Our transformative approach enables us to spearhead the development of the next generation of orthopaedic treatments for musculoskeletal injuries and disease.

Program Leaders:

Photo of Amy Wagers

Amy Wagers, Ph.D.

Co-chair, Harvard Department of Stem Cell and Regenerative Biology
Senior Investigator, Islet Cell and Regenerative Biology, Joslin Diabetes Center

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