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UNE’s “Bone Posse” strikes again: Collaborative faculty researchers showcase bone research at national meeting

Tamara King, Karen Houseknecht, and Kathleen Becker attending the annual American Society for Bone and Mineral Research meeting.
Tamara King, Karen Houseknecht, and Kathleen Becker attending the annual American Society for Bone and Mineral Research meeting. Upon return to UNE, the group was rounded out when Meghan May joined the posse.

October 11, 2019

Tamara King, Ph.D., associate professor of physiology, College of Osteopathic Medicine
Tamara King, Ph.D., associate professor of physiology, College of Osteopathic Medicine
Back Row: Eryn Harrington (student intern, North Carolina State), Kathleen Becker, Kristin Gaudreau (Medical Biology, ’19), Kayl
The "Bone Posse" with student members. Back Row: Eryn Harrington (student intern, North Carolina State), Kathleen Becker, Kristin Gaudreau (Medical Biology, ’19), Kaylee Townsend (Medical Biology and English, ’21), Matthew Slitzky (COM ’22), Bahman Rostama, Ph.D., (research associate, COM), Joshua Havelin, M.S., (doctoral student ’20), Andrew Elkinson (Medical Biology, ’20) Third Row: Victoria Eaton, B.S., (laboratory technician and manager, COM), Karen Houseknecht, Deborah Barlow, B.S., (research technician III, Office of Research and Scholarship), María Caamaño Sanchez (master’s student, University of Granada, Spain), Jumana Al-Hanfy (INBRE Scholar from SMCC) Second Row: Tamara King, Meghan May First Row: Elliott Hall

We often think of bones as simple structures that the body is built around. But on the contrary, bone biology and bone health are dynamic processes that impact the health and well-being across the lifespan – so say Associate Professor Tamara King, Ph.D., Assistant Professor Kathleen Becker, Ph.D., and Meghan May, Ph.D., all of the College of Osteopathic Medicine, and Associate Provost for Research and Scholarship Karen Houseknecht, Ph.D.

Understanding bone function and the factors that impact bone health is a growing area of research interest at UNE and is part of a vital collaborative effort between researchers at UNE and Maine Medical Center Research Institute in Scarborough.  These researchers recently displayed their work at the 2019 annual meeting for the American Society for Bone and Mineral Research (ASBMR), held September 20-23 in Orlando, Florida.

The ASBMR meeting focuses on basic, translational and clinical science relating to bone biology and bone health. It attracts scientists and clinicians representing all career levels and specializing in a variety of disciplines including medicine, dentistry, geriatrics, oncology and others.

A highlight of the 2019 meeting, which drew approximately 3,000 attendees from more than 70 countries, was a special session devoted to bone pain.  In that session, King presented an invited keynote address titled “Mechanistic Analysis of Bone Pain,” which shared her expertise as a pain researcher in order to highlight approaches to assess bone pain associated with osteoarthritis, cancer, osteoporosis and TMJ.

King, Becker, and Houseknecht collectively co-authored six abstracts that were presented at the meeting, in collaboration with UNE students and bone researchers at Maine Medical Center Research Institute.

After returning home from the meeting, the UNE researchers were joined by May, forming an inter-disciplinary group of researchers interested in projects involving bone biology and function.  King, a pain researcher, Houseknecht, an endocrinology/pharmacology researcher, Becker, a bone biologist, and May, an infectious disease expert, call themselves the “Bone Posse.”

Trained in vastly different specialties, they work together to deepen their research on bone health and function, with exciting results. The transdisciplinary nature of the group allows the researchers’ labs to tackle big questions, such as:  “How is bone pain regulated with osteoporosis?” “How do psychiatric drugs regulate the immune system?” and “How do medications increase susceptibility to bone loss and bone pain?”

In addition to strengthening research efforts through the combination of the researchers’ unique tools, strengths and expertise, the unique collaboration affords additional opportunities for UNE students and post-doctoral scientists to learn new techniques and interact with leading experts across multiple disciplines and institutions. Undergraduate and medical students, as well as graduate students pursuing their doctorates, have worked on “Bone Posse” research projects. This summer, beneficiaries of this collaborative work included visiting students – among them an Idea Networks of Biomedical Research Excellence (INBRE) scholar from Southern Maine Community College and a graduate student from the University of Granada in Spain.  The students have presented their research at local, national and international meetings, acquiring opportunities to build their resumes and professional networks.

By working together, UNE’s “Bone Posse” harnesses the transdisciplinary power of diverse expertise to publish broadly-read research articles, generate innovative grant proposals, create opportunities for students and, most importantly, address big questions in bone biology and human health.

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