Published by:

Most Americans will be affected by an injury or condition of the muscles, bones or joints during their lifetime. As the American population ages, musculoskeletal issues are becoming more common reasons to seek medical care.

The University of Michigan Comprehensive Musculoskeletal Center (U-M CMC) offers a multidisciplinary approach to provide the best care possible for patients. Our collaborative effort addresses the musculoskeletal system as a whole using a full array of diagnostic and therapeutic techniques.

At the U-M CMC, orthopaedists, physiatrists, anesthesia pain specialists, neurosurgeons, sports medicine specialists, radiologists and rheumatologists work to provide the best outcomes for the high-level athlete, weekend warrior and active senior.



Published by:

To better understand the disparity between identifiable damage and chronic pain, the National Institutes of Health has awarded $7.5 million over five years to physician-scientists at the University of Michigan Fibromyalgia Center of Research Translation.


Daniel Clauw, MD

According to the National Academy of Medicine, an estimated 100 million Americans struggle with chronic pain, yet many individuals fail to respond to commonly used therapies, such as anti-inflammatory drugs, opioids, injections and surgery.

“We want to increase understanding of how peripheral damage or inflammation and central nervous system factors interact to cause acute and chronic pain,” says co-principal investigator Daniel Clauw, MD, professor of anesthesiology, psychiatry and rheumatology, and director of U-M’s Chronic Pain and Fatigue Research Center.

U-M investigators have been accumulating evidence suggesting these treatments may fail in part because they target underlying damage or inflammation in the region of the body that hurts, discounting the involvement of the central nervous system.


Chad Brummett, MD

For those with fibromyalgia, Clauw says, it’s like the brain turns up the volume control on pain processing. That higher volume is often the underlying problem, more than damage or inflammation in the region of the body that hurts.

The team will investigate whether, like fibromyalgia, a portion of the patients with other chronic pain conditions would also respond better to drug and non-drug therapies aimed at the brain than to the standard anti-inflammatory drugs, opioids, injections and surgery.

“We hope to demonstrate similarities in neuroimaging among those who suffer from high levels of chronic pain, including signs of centralized pain,” says Chad Brummett, MD , co-principal investigator, associate professor of anesthesiology and pain management, and director of the Department of Anesthesiology’s Division of Pain Research.


Published by:


For patients presenting to their physician’s office with persistent tendon pain, a chronic strain can usually be to blame for the patient’s discomfort.


Troy Henning, DO

“When tendons are overloaded, whether through repetitive or a sudden increase in activity, it causes the tendon to weaken and makes it more susceptible to injury and the development of pain,” says Troy Henning, DO, assistant professor of physical medicine and rehabilitation.

Henning, colleague Daniel Lueders, MD, assistant professor of physical medicine and rehabilitation, and primary care sports medicine colleagues offer patients both nonsurgical and minimally invasive treatment options for treating their tendinopathy. One promising nonsurgical therapy is the use of platelet-rich plasma (PRP) injections, where a portion of the patient’s blood that has a high concentration of platelets is used to inject back into the diseased portion of the tendon.

“Traditional approaches have most often involved anti-inflammatory therapies, such as an injection of cortisone, but there is growing evidence that these injuries don’t involve as much inflammation as had once been thought, and such an approach may be unhelpful for healing and counterproductive as steroids can further weaken tendons,” Lueders says.

Interest in PRP has grown because of the potential for platelets to stimulate and accelerate tissue healing. As the platelets are injected and exposed to collagen in the tendon, they slowly activate and release growth factors and proteins.

“These factors lead to tissue regeneration through stimulation of angiogenesis, extracellular matrix production and collagen synthesis,” Henning says. “In theory, this normalizes the structural make of the tendon tissue.”


Daniel Lueders, MD

Lueders says the benefits of PRP are still being examined and may vary at different tendon sites. Although there is increasing evidence that PRP is effective in tennis elbow, which is one of the most common tendinopathies, the value of PRP for accelerating tissue repair at other sites, such as the Achilles tendon, plantar fascia and rotator cuff, is the subject of investigation and ongoing research.

Although there is much that is still unknown about PRP, the new therapy option showcases the understanding U-M musculoskeletal specialists have of the underlying molecular processes of healing.

“One of the advantages of our team is that we are taking an objective approach to understanding where PRP fits with other treatment options,” Lueders says.

PRP might not be the answer for every patient with a tendon injury, he cautions, and studies are still underway to establish optimal dosing and timing. However, it is an example of an innovative option available for individualizing care.

“We know structured rehabilitation has the best evidence for therapeutic benefit in patients with tendinopathies, but full recovery can be slow or incomplete,” Lueders explains. “Platelet-rich plasma affords us a safe and effective addition to our options for treating challenging tendon injuries. Our team has expertise in a broad array of treatments, which allows us to individualize therapy appropriately.”

U-M musculoskeletal specialists use a variety of treatments for tendinopathies:


“Most of the time, it just takes some focused exercises directed at the injured tendon to help restore its normal health and function,” Henning says. “In general, 80 percent of patients will respond to an exercise intervention alone.”

Nonsurgical interventions

“We prescribe nitroglycerin patches to patients who seem to be having moderate to severe pain that is interfering with their ability to use the tendon,” Henning says. “The patch helps to normalize the function of the tendon cells. This, in turn, helps to reduce pain and may help heal the tendon.”

Minimally invasive procedures



Published by:

The University of Michigan Comprehensive Musculoskeletal Center is focused on bringing multidisciplinary care to patients every day. That care relies on cross-disciplinary research that provides clinicians with the latest information and novel approaches to treating chronic conditions.

In August 2016, U-M was awarded a $3.9 million Center of Excellence P30 grant from the National Institutes of Health to strengthen its existing musculoskeletal health research program by accelerating new cross-disciplinary research throughout the university.


James E. Carpenter, MD

“The University of Michigan has an exceptional group of faculty studying musculoskeletal diseases and treatments who will be able to accelerate their research as a result of this award,” says , chair of orthopaedic surgery.

The cross-disciplinary research will happen through the new Michigan Integrative Musculoskeletal Health Core Center (MiMHC).

“The MiMHC was structured to accelerate science and innovation at U-M around understanding mechanisms of musculoskeletal health, injury and disease across the lifespan,” says Karl Jepsen, PhD, professor and associate chair of research of orthopaedic surgery, principal investigator for the grant and director for the MiMHC.

Three main research cores within the MiMHC will focus on histological assessment, structural and compositional assessment, and functional assessment. The cores move from molecular mechanisms through functional outcomes.


Karl Jepsen, PhD

“These cores will enable us to turbocharge bench-to-bedside research,” Jepsen says. “We are very excited to see how new findings influence future therapies, recommendations and training programs.”

Examples of cross-disciplinary research within the MiMHC include investigators in obstetrics and gynecology collaborating with an orthopaedics researcher to understand muscle stretch and function of the pelvic floor during vaginal birth, as well as investigators in orthopaedics, anatomy, anthropology and engineering collaborating together to understand anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injuries.

“This is an exciting time for those of us in musculoskeletal research,” Jepsen says. “Greater interactions between basic scientists and clinicians are important to the future of medicine and the care we will be able to provide to patients in the years to come.”


Main research cores within
the MiMHC will focus on:

1 Histological assessment

2 Structural and compositional assessment

3 Functional assessment

The cores move from molecular mechanisms through functional outcomes.



Published by:

For patients with cerebral palsy, managing overall health and well-being can be a day-to-day challenge.


Mark Peterson, PhD, MS, FACSM

The pediatric neurodevelopmental disorder caused by damage to the brain, generally before or around the time of birth, results in a wide range of physical and developmental problems, such as altered muscle tone, loss of control of movements, decreased strength and balance, and problems with walking or sitting, in addition to a wide range of medical and cognitive difficulties, such as swallowing, seizures and orthopaedic abnormalities. As a father of a child with cerebral palsy, Mark Peterson, PhD, MS, FACSM, assistant professor of physical medicine and rehabilitation, has dedicated his career to improving the scientific evidence and clinical care of individuals with cerebral palsy.

Peterson is among a small group of international researchers working to increase awareness of long-term health concerns in the growing population.

Traditionally, he explains, research in patients with cerebral palsy has been focused on pediatrics patients, but these individuals can and do live long lives, and there hasn’t been as much research on how the disorder affects them once they reach adulthood.

Peterson and colleague, Edward Hurvitz, MD, professor and chair of physical medicine and rehabilitation, published two recent papers highlighting new aspects of managing overall health in patients with cerebral palsy.


Edward Hurvitz, MD

In a study published December 2015 in JAMA (JAMA 2015;314:2303-2305), the two researchers and their colleagues measured the prevalence of eight lifestyle-related chronic health conditions in both adults with cerebral palsy and those without. They determined adults with cerebral palsy were between two and five times more likely to have secondary chronic health conditions, such as diabetes and high blood pressure, than adults without cerebral palsy.

The findings raised questions about how to prevent or reduce the conditions among the high-risk population.

“Because cerebral palsy results in accelerated loss of mobility with age, individuals tend to experience more fatigue and have greater muscle and joint pain over time. We found physical inactivity and immobility were strongly associated with these chronic health conditions,” Peterson says. “Therefore, we need to strongly consider how these health complications could further impact this population, and how we can prevent or reduce these conditions among individuals with cerebral palsy through their lifespan.”

Peterson and colleagues have been working to address physical inactivity and immobility in patients with cerebral palsy. In fact, they recently published the first paper (Dev Med Child Neurol 2016;58:798-808) to describe cerebral palsy-specific exercises and physical activity recommendations.

“Before this paper, exercise in this population was founded on what we would think of as physical therapy in children,” Peterson says. “Some types of exercises or physical activities were thought to potentially exacerbate symptoms in patients with cerebral palsy, but that’s all but been disproved at this point.”

The paper is a framework for fellow clinicians to use as a reference point for recommending exercises and physical activity for patients with cerebral palsy.

Peterson adds that many adults with cerebral palsy do not meet exercise guidelines and spend significant amounts of time being sedentary. That sedentary behavior puts individuals—not only those with cerebral palsy—at risk for metabolic and cardiovascular diseases.

“The first step towards being healthy is simply reducing excess sedentary behavior,” he says.

In the future, Peterson hopes to expand the boundaries of research for patients with cerebral palsy beyond the University of Michigan.


“We’re trying hard to move towards having an international consortium of experts who can collect data, increase sample sizes and write papers together, in an effort to improve the state of research and infrastructure for individuals with cerebral palsy,” he says.



Published by:

According to the National Institutes of Health, pain is the most common reason why people seek medical care.


Daniel Berland, MD

“The prevalence of chronic pain in the U.S. is difficult to estimate, but its impact is profound,” says Daniel Berland, MD, clinical assistant professor of anesthesiology. “One hundred million Americans suffer daily pain symptoms, and chronic pain is the leading cause of long-term disability in our country. These numbers will only increase as our population ages, amplifying the need for effective, accessible interventions to manage chronic pain and preserve function.”

One common treatment for pain is the use of opioid medications, but these come at the cost of some patients becoming dependent or addicted, and sometimes opioids may be doing more harm than good.

“There are a number of patients who have opioid-induced hyperalgesia,” says Ronald Wasserman, MD, assistant professor of anesthesiology, service chief for pain medicine and director of the University of Michigan Back and Pain Center. “This patient group is on a higher dose of opioids, but is not responding. These patients tend to have more widespread pain, and the opioids are actually causing the increase and spreading of pain to happen.”

He adds, “Clearly we have an opioid epidemic in this country, so for this particular patient group, and others, our goal is to ease the patients’ pain and help get them off these high-dose opioids that could actually be causing them more pain.” The evidence showing opioids to be effective in the treatment of chronic pain is lacking, he notes, yet there are numerous studies showing the significant risks associated with opioids.

Wasserman and Berland work together at the U-M Back and Pain Center, which is part of the U-M Comprehensive Musculoskeletal Center. They utilize intervention techniques that do not include prescribing opioids to help ease pain for patients.

Berland explains that pain can often be effectively managed through non-opioid medications, as well as treatments such as injection therapy or other interventional procedures, surgery, physical therapy or psychological counseling, depending on the patient’s specific pain concerns and history.

“Pain is often a multidisciplinary problem that requires a multidisciplinary approach,” Berland says.

When Berland meets with new patients, he asks them how disabling their pain is, what they think brought on their pain and what has — and has not — worked in the past to manage it. By taking time to talk with patients, he explains, it’s not uncommon to discover underlying psychological sources for some of their pain.

“Several patients have had things happen to them in life that make them react abnormally to the pain they seem to have in their bodies,” he says. “It’s not because they’re crazy or they want disability, but instead, their brains have been altered by their lives.”


Ronald Wasserman, MD

Wasserman agrees, “Patients take opioids for different reasons, and we continually take part in research to better understand why certain patients do better on these medications than others.”

Wasserman says there are current conversations at U-M about establishing a multidisciplinary opioid detox clinic dedicated to treating patients who are on high-dose opioids, either chronically or pre-and post-op, and weaning them down or off opioids. Such a clinic would include physicians, such as Berland, with expertise in the treatment of addiction and opioid dependence, as well as psychologists and a social worker.

Even if patients still need medications, a number of non-opioid options are available. Acetaminophen, such as Tylenol, and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs are commonly used for pain, although patients should continue to be monitored by a physician, as excessive doses can cause liver or other gastrointestinal problems.

Berland says additional adjuvant medications can be used alone or in combination with other pain relievers. For example, several classes of antidepressants and anticonvulsant medications have proven effective for some types of pain, while also potentially benefiting mood and sleep.

For pain specific to one area, he adds, pain relievers can sometimes be delivered to a particular location through patches, injections or ointments. Some patients, paradoxically, do better once they are weaned from existing pain medications. Although they are not covered by insurance, mindfulness techniques, such as meditation, have been shown in some studies to help control pain response, moods and sleeplessness.

It’s important for patients, working with their care providers, to set realistic treatment goals for functional improvement.

“While complete pain relief may not be possible, effective therapy should control pain in order to improve a person’s functioning at work, home, in social situations and while pursuing preferred activities,” Berland says.


100 million Americans, or 43% of the U.S. population, suffers some sort of daily pain.

Chronic pain is the leading cause of long-term disability in our country.

MEET Beverly



Published by:

Musicians and others with high-demand occupations may suffer from a host of repetitive strain injuries, including tennis elbow, golfer’s elbow, wrist tendonitis, rotator cuff impingement or trigger finger. They also are susceptible to nerve entrapments, such as carpal tunnel syndrome or ulnar neuropathy at the elbow.


Scott Homer, MD

“Musicians are at risk for repetitive strain injuries when there is a sudden increase in playing time or intensity,” says Scott Homer, MD, a nonsurgical hand specialist and clinical instructor in physical medicine and rehabilitation, who often treats musicians and others suffering from hand and arm injuries caused by repetitive use. “It may happen when preparing for a recital or performance, or in the transition from summer break back to the demands of music school.”

Homer, along with colleagues Kevin Chung, MD, chief of hand surgery and professor of plastic surgery and orthopaedic surgery, and Jeffrey Lawton, MD, service chief of hand and upper extremity surgery, is part of the University of Michigan Hand Program, which includes non-operative hand specialists, orthopaedic and hand plastic surgeons, physician assistants and hand therapists who treat University of Michigan Comprehensive Musculoskeletal Center patients.

Homer and his team will sit down with a patient and solicit details regarding occupation, changes in physical activity and ergonomics, as well as pain, numbness or weakness. They will then perform a physical examination, which includes assessment for tenderness or pain with stress of the associated areas. Additional testing may include ultrasounds for nerve or tendon issues and electromyography testing for nerve damage.

When it comes to treatment of the hand injury, hand physiatrists and surgeons aim not only to relieve the pain, but also to resolve the underlying condition causing the injury.


Kevin Chung, MD

“If a performer’s posture or technique is suboptimal, there may be an increased susceptibility to muscle fatigue and tension, predisposing him or her to injury,” Homer says. “It’s very important to fix issues with posture and technique for a sustainable outcome.”

Lawton adds, “Often, many musicians are not interested in cutting their two- to four-hour practice sessions shorter, but they can do the same total time in 45-minute increments, which tends to be less stressful on the injury.”

Additionally, hand specialists often encourage relative rest with associated intermittent splinting of the injured area, ice, anti-inflammatories and a trial of topical nitroglycerin patches for tendonitis. Homer adds that steroid injections can be appropriate in certain cases, but discouraged in others, such as for treating tennis elbow.

Chung adds that hand problems in the musician patient group should not be equated to surgery.

“Musicians do not have structural problems with their hands,” Chung says. “They have overuse problems, including muscle soreness and perhaps developing incorrect posture. We don’t want to operate on this patient group when we instead can understand their motivations for playing and intensity levels, and help them adjust their schedule. This, in turn, allows treatment of their injury to be more effective.”

cic_musicThe various members of the U-M Hand Program frequently confer on overlapping cases, such as carpal tunnel syndrome, ulnar neuropathy, thumb arthritis, trigger finger, and tendon and ligament injuries. In addition to musicians, they treat a wide variety of hand and upper extremity conditions in various patient groups.

“We have an excellent team and infrastructure here at the U-M Hand Program to treat complex and major trauma injuries, such as farming accidents, motorcycle injuries and industrial injuries,” Chung says.

“Our program strives to help patients along the hand and upper extremity injury spectrum, from rehabilitation treatments with musicians to reconstructive surgery for trauma patients.”


Published by:

Although exercise is essential for building and maintaining bone mass, in some cases, it can potentially take a negative toll on bone health.


J. Lindsay Quade, MD

“Young female athletes are at risk for Female Athlete Triad, or relative energy deficiency in sports syndrome (RED-S),” says
J. Lindsay Quade, MD , instructor in internal medicine and primary care physician specializing in sports medicine. “We need to watch for this syndrome in men too, but it is more commonly seen in women. Women who suffer from this aren’t having their menstrual periods and, therefore, they’re not getting the benefits of estrogen, which is important for bone health.”

Female Athlete Triad was first recognized in 1997 by the American College of Sports Medicine as a syndrome with three components: energy availability, menstruation and bone health (J Acad Nutr Diet 2016;116:74). Men also are susceptible to the effects of insufficient energy availability. In 2014, the International Olympic Committee introduced an alternative term, RED-S, to encompass symptoms related to energy deficiency that can occur in all athletes, including men. Women, however, have the compounded effects of abnormal menstruation.


Rebecca Northway, MD

“In female athletes who push themselves too much or who do not have sufficient caloric intake to match energy expenditure, there can be a lack of periods because of low body weight,” says Rebecca Northway, MD, instructor in internal medicine and primary care physician specializing in sports medicine. “Therefore, it’s really important to screen young female athletes to see if they’re at risk. In addition, we often think about bone health in older patients because there is an emphasis on osteoporosis in elderly women, but it’s also important to focus on bone health in younger women.”

Quade adds, “I make it a point to talk about exercise and bone health with all of my patients who come in for their annual visits, just as much as we talk about mammograms, Pap smears and colonoscopies.”

For young women in high school or college who are set to join an athletic team, pre-participation physical examinations and questionnaires can be used to screen for potential risk factors related to Female Athlete Triad.

“These tools look at menstrual periods and the history around them, such as the age when they started and how often they occur,” Northway says. The risk assessment also includes measuring the athlete’s body mass index and asking her whether she worries about her body image or weight.

Northway adds, “It’s also important to determine if these women have ever had or are dealing with an eating disorder, or if they have a medically necessary dietary restriction or an absorption problem, such as celiac disease or inflammatory bowel disease.”

cic_jointFinally, asking athletes about past or current stress fractures is an indicator of potential risk.

“Once we have identified an athlete at risk, we risk stratify to see if we need to have them on provisional clearance for sports, restrict them from a certain aspect of their sport, or—the worst-case scenario—prohibit them from participation in their sport entirely,” Northway says. “For any athlete—and I speak from personal experience as an athlete who has been injured—it’s very difficult to sit on the sidelines.”

Restricting physical activity or participation in sports in someone who does not have a physical injury can be even more challenging.

“We need to get buy-in from the athlete,” Northway says.

Quade and Northway have an array of multidisciplinary resources available to aid in the diagnosis and treatment of these patients. Nutritionists and behavioral health specialists are essential in managing the spectrum of symptoms, as well as the University of Michigan Fragility Fracture Clinic, part of the University of Michigan Comprehensive Musculoskeletal Center.


Karen Cummings, PA-C

The clinic helps patients with bone fractures that fracture from a low-energy or ground-level fall. If Quade and Northway feel a patient they are seeing may have bone fragility, they work with Karen Cummings, PA-C , physician assistant in orthopaedic surgery and fragility fracture program coordinator, and her team to have the patient seen in the clinic.

“Most female athletes scheduled in our clinic have had running-related stress fractures,” Cummings says. “Not all patients have a bone density deficit, eating problem or menstrual disruption. But, these issues need to be ruled out. Sometimes, the sheer amount of training and biomechanics of the individual may be contributors to a fracture.”

Quade and Northway explain helping patients with bone health requires time from both the patient and physician, but is a rewarding process.

“I see my role in helping patients maintain bone health as twofold,” Quade says. “One, as a primary care doctor, because of the importance of preventive health care, and also from a sports medicine perspective, in terms of being comfortable with making exercise recommendations.”

Even with the most supportive resources, treatment can be tough, but helping patients achieve and maintain optimum bone health is a fundamental part of their clinical practices.

“It’s not an easy, quick visit when you’re discussing these things,” Northway says. “It takes a lot of time and a good relationship between the patient and the physician.”




Published by:

Anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) tears are among the most frequent traumatic knee injuries in both professional and recreational athletes.

But despite the fact that surgical procedures to repair the injuries have good outcomes, many patients face lengthy periods of muscle atrophy.


Christopher Mendias, PhD

“Even with our best efforts in terms of rehabilitation, when we send patients back out to play sports, they still have muscle weakness at the site of the tear, particularly at the quadriceps, the main thigh muscle extending from the knee,” says Christopher Mendias, Ph.D., associate professor of orthopaedic surgery, and molecular and integrative physiology. “Short term, patients are weaker on that knee and could get reinjured. Long term, what we see is a very good chance of developing osteoarthritis and eventually needing a knee replacement.”

Mendias explains that normally during exercises, such as jogging, forces are transmitted through the muscles. If the muscles are weak, those forces will instead travel through the bones, hitting the cartilage that connects the bone to the joints.

“You’re looking at decades of having a painful knee,” Mendias says. “It’s a slow process in which the cartilage erodes. Average weekend warriors may need to wait six months after ACL surgery to return to normal activity. For professional athletes, that time is likely to be up to 11 months.”

With $800,000 in funding from the Mark Cuban Foundation, Mendias and his colleague, Asheesh Bedi, MD, service chief for sports medicine and associate professor of orthopaedic surgery, are now studying human growth hormone (HGH) as a potential means to preserve the strength of the thigh musculature that would otherwise be lost through an ACL tear and resulting treatment.


Asheesh Bedi, MD

The clinical trial will compare HGH with a placebo in 50 men, ages 18 to 35, who have had a recent ACL tear, but no previous major knee injuries.

Participants will inject themselves with HGH or a placebo twice daily, starting a week before surgery and continuing until five weeks after surgery. The investigators will use magnetic resonance imaging and muscle strength tests to compare both knees during the course of therapy and up to six months after surgery, and will collect patients’ experiences with the supplement. Women are excluded from the study because of concerns about HGH’s effect on a developing fetus.

“Once muscle is lost, it’s really hard to get that strength all the way back,” Mendias says. “The idea is that by administering growth hormone in that early stage after the ACL tear, we can prevent some of the loss in muscle mass. Then, patients will have a stronger base to work on during rehabilitation following surgery.”

HGH, which stimulates cell growth and cell regeneration, is available only by prescription for a small list of approved uses, such as childhood growth disorders and wasting disease. But, it has been shown to protect against muscle weakness in some basic science studies.

cic_aclHGH has been banned by some professional sports organizations, but Mendias says that while the hormone does shrink fat and cause muscle tissue to absorb water and improve definition, it does not enhance athletic performance, so there are no doping effects on otherwise healthy muscle.

Mendias and Bedi received approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to conduct the two-year study. If the study is successful by its completion in late 2017, Mendias will approach the FDA about expanding the study to more patients in additional locations.



Published by:

New developments in imaging tech­nology have enabled physicians to identify cancer in its earliest manifes­tations, which is critical for treatment. In addition, a more thorough under­standing of the numerous molecular pathways involved in tumor cell proliferation has allowed physicians to adopt a personalized approach with targeted cancer therapies.

Thomas D. Wang, MD, PhD, associate professor of internal medicine, biomedical engineering and mechanical engineering, and H. Marvin Pollard collegiate professor of endoscopy research at the University of Michigan Health System, is devel­oping very specific molecular probes to be used in conjunction with new optical imaging to identify precancerous lesions in the gastrointestinal tract.

Dr. Wang, Xiyu Duan and Gaoming Li, pictured left to right, work with a laser as part of Dr. Wang’s research.

“We are currently developing peptides that bind to molecular targets expressed in diseases of the biliary tract, colon, esophagus, and liver,” said Dr. Wang, a gastroenterologist whose research has centered on molecular imaging.


Although most existing targeted cancer thera­pies are based on monoclonal antibodies that attach to target proteins on the exterior of cancer cells, Dr. Wang is concentrating on peptide-based compounds that are considerably smaller.

“These peptide-based probes provide an attrac­tive alternative for visualizing tissue targets that would otherwise be difficult to penetrate or access,” Dr. Wang said. “This work alters current diagnostic paradigms because diagnoses can now be made based on microscopic increases in the expression of molecular targets specific to certain diseases rather than on the gross visible appear­ance of mass lesions.”

Peptides also are safe for systemic use and are less immunogenic than antibodies. Additionally, peptides can be transformed anatomically to increase stability against proteolytic degradation and can be labeled with fluorophores that will permit imaging several targets at the same time.

Dr. Wang is part of a collaboration that is respon­sible for “developing novel molecular imaging methodologies to visualize cell surface targets that are either gene amplified and/or highly overexpressed in EAC [esophageal adenocarci­noma],” as compared with Barrett’s esophagus. These cell surfaces will be seen using “highly specific peptides that are fluorescently labeled for real-time endoscopic imaging to rapidly assess esophageal mucosa” for the existence of early neoplasia.

Dr. Wang hopes that with additional research and development of peptide-based probes for molec­ular imaging, physicians will have a more precise representation of cellular and molecular activities in all areas of the GI tract.

“We have developed novel molecular probes that bind to cell surface targets that are overexpressed in a number of human diseases,” he said. “I expect to find new uses for these molecular probes to detect diseases beyond their original purpose for development.”