Skeletal diseases are a diverse and often debilitating group of conditions that affect the bones. They include a broad range of disorders, such as:
These conditions can be extremely painful and cause loss of mobility, which significantly reduces quality of life. While some treatments do exist for these diseases, more research is needed to find new prevention strategies and improved therapies.
Scientists in Van Andel Institute’s (VAI) Center for Cancer and Cell Biology study the full spectrum of bone biology, from the mechanisms that give rise to healthy bone tissue to those that cause disease. They work to translate their findings into new strategies to combat these often tough-to-treat conditions by:
Focus area: Translational sarcoma therapeutics
Patrick Grohar, M.D., Ph.D., develops new drugs to treat bone cancer in children, in addition to pursuing a deeper understanding of the mechanisms of sarcomas and related conditions. Once proven safe and effective in the lab, his team translates these potential therapies into clinical trials for children with few other options. He is an associate professor in Van Andel Research Institute’s Center for Cancer and Cell Biology and a pediatric oncologist at Spectrum Health Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital.
Focus area: Tumor microenvironment and metastasis
Xiaohong Li, Ph.D., studies when various cancers, particularly prostate and breast cancer cells, migrate from their original site and spread to the bone. These cells stay dormant and might wake up years later or grow-up to bone metastases, cause debilitating pain and are exceedingly difficult to treat. Li hopes that a better understanding metastatic cancers will lead to new diagnostic tests and targeted therapies.
Focus area: Musculoskeletal oncology
Matt Steensma, M.D., studies the genetic and molecular factors that cause benign tumors to become cancers to find vulnerabilities that may be targeted for treatment. As a scientist at VARI and practicing surgeon at Spectrum Health Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital, he is committed to translating scientific discoveries into treatments that improve patients’ lives.
Focus area: Skeletal biology
Tao Yang, Ph.D., studies the signaling systems that govern skeletal stem cells and the role they play in diseases such as osteoarthritis and osteoporosis. Bones are the largest producer of adult stem cells, which mature into cartilage, fat or bone tissue—a process that falters with age. Yang seeks a better understanding of these systems in search of new treatments for degenerative bone disorders and other skeletal aging.