July 13, 2016
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Overview of the STAR Awards:

In February 2015, NIAMS launched the Supplements to Advance Research, or STAR, awards program to provide additional support for early career-stage investigators. The Institute awarded the first three STAR awards in July 2015. Supplemental funding provided by the STAR awards allows early-established investigators who have renewed their first NIAMS-funded R01 grant to pursue innovative and high-risk research within the broader scope of a current NIAMS-funded, peer-reviewed research project. The award also helps investigators to expand a single, structured research project into a broader multi-faceted research program. In July 2016, the NIAMS awarded STAR supplements to five investigators.

2016 Awardee Profiles:

Troy Hornberger, Ph.D., is an associate professor of comparative biosciences at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. He is the principal investigator of a NIAMS-funded research project that seeks to improve understanding of the mechanisms by which mechanical signals affect muscle mass. Dr. Hornberger’s lab has identified several proteins in muscle tissue that are altered in response to mechanical stimulation, and the STAR award will enable him to investigate the role these proteins may play in hypertrophy—an increase in the size of skeletal muscle due to growth in the size of the component skeletal muscle cells. In addition, he will use the STAR funding to expand his research by identifying and characterizing proteins and biological mechanisms involved in muscle loss, or atrophy.

Terry Lechler, Ph.D., is an associate professor of dermatology and cell biology at Duke University. Through a NIAMS-funded grant, Dr. Lechler has been investigating the assembly and function of desmosomes, cell-cell adhesion structures that provide mechanical strength to the skin. Dr. Lechler and his team have identified a number of new desmosome-associated proteins and characterized their functions. The STAR award will allow Dr. Lechler to generate mouse models to further explore the functions of novel desmosomal proteins in the skin in vivo, and to investigate the pathogenesis of pemphigus vulgaris, an autoimmune disease in which autoantibodies bind to and disrupt desmosomes.

Robin Patel, M.D., is a professor of medicine and microbiology at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN. Dr. Patel’s research focuses on understanding the pathogenesis of orthopaedic infections and developing strategies for detecting and managing them. She is leading the work on a NIAMS-funded grant to develop tests for microorganisms associated with prosthetic joint infections and arthroplasty failure, two increasing concerns in orthopaedics. Dr. Patel and her group have developed tools that can detect microbes dislodged from orthopaedic implants and will use the STAR award funding to develop new approaches to diagnose infections using the synovial fluid found inside of joints. The results of this work could help clinicians to determine the most appropriate surgical approach and antibiotic therapy for patients needing revision surgery after arthroplasty failure.

Stavros Thomopoulos, Ph.D., is a professor of orthopaedic surgery and biomedical engineering at the Columbia University Medical Center. Dr. Thomopoulos is the principal investigator of a NIAMS-supported project to improve understanding of the development and structure of the tendon enthesis, the specialized tissue that connects tendons to bones. The STAR award will allow Dr. Thomopoulos to test the use of cell-based therapies to facilitate enthesis repair following injury in animal models. If successful, this research could lead to new strategies to reduce failure rates associated with surgical repair of the enthesis.

Song Guo Zheng, M.D., Ph.D., is a professor of medicine at the Pennsylvania State University Hershey Medical Center. Through a grant from the NIAMS, Dr. Zheng’s lab is studying the role of regulatory T cells (Tregs) in autoimmune arthritis. Tregs are critical for the prevention of autoimmune responses and maintenance of immune tolerance, and Dr. Zheng’s group is working to improve understanding of how different Treg subpopulations affect the appearance and development of autoimmune diseases. The STAR award funding will enable Dr. Zheng to investigate a specific marker, GCM2, that may distinguish stable Treg populations from those that can morph into pathogenic T effector cells and to study its effects in a mouse model of inflammatory arthritis. The studies will provide new insights that could improve therapy for rheumatoid arthritis.


To view profiles for the 2015 STAR awardees, visit the 2015 announcement for the STAR program.

For more information, please see the STAR funding opportunity announcement and the December 2014 letter from the NIAMS Director announcing the program.

The mission of the NIAMS, a part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' National Institutes of Health, is to support research into the causes, treatment and prevention of arthritis and musculoskeletal and skin diseases; the training of basic and clinical scientists to carry out this research; and the dissemination of information on research progress in these diseases. For more information about the NIAMS, call the information clearinghouse at (301) 495-4484 or (877) 22-NIAMS (free call) or visit the NIAMS website at https://www.niams.nih.gov.

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