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PHILADELPHIA— The Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania came in at number one for the most funds awarded to a United States orthopaedic surgery department by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in 2021. According to a list by the Blue Ridge Institute for Medical Research, which annually compiles NIH funding totals received by academic institutions, Penn Orthopaedic Surgery was the only orthopaedic surgery department to exceed $10 million last year.

“We know that our program is composed of people who are highly knowledgeable, talented, and productive doing highly innovative and impactful research, but it is always gratifying to see the NIH acknowledge that with grant support,” said L. Scott Levin, MD, FACS, FAOA, FAAOS, the Paul B. Magnuson Professor and chair of Orthopaedic Surgery, a professor of Surgery in Plastic Surgery, and vice president and associate dean for Resource Development. “Every dollar that goes into our research helps to produce strong results that continue to move the ball forward in our goal of improving patients’ lives. We are proud of our superb clinical care and outstanding educational programs, and the fact that we have reached this research milestone underscores our commitment to advancing musculoskeletal science to benefit our patients.”

Totaling $10.3 million in NIH grants last year, Penn Orthopaedic Surgery researchers were awarded approximately $800,000 more than the next highest-awarded program.

“Penn Orthopaedic Surgery has long been among the top five recipients of NIH funding for our field, which is rare and quite an accomplishment,” said Louis J. Soslowsky, PhD, a professor of Orthopaedic Surgery and vice chair for Research in Orthopaedic Surgery. “To have that type of consistent federal funding is invaluable, and it shows a remarkable level of breadth and depth in our efforts.”

Like Penn Orthopaedic Surgery itself, Soslowsky has also been a top-five individual awardee in the Orthopaedic Surgery category of the Blue Ridge Institute’s list since they began compiling it 15 years ago. For 2021, he ranked fourth in the country, with more than $2.2 million in NIH grants. Ling Qin, PhD, an associate professor of Orthopaedic Surgery, Lachlan James Smith, PhD, an associate professor of Orthopaedic Surgery, and Robert Mauck, PhD, a professor of Orthopaedic Surgery, as well as a director of the McKay Orthopaedic Research Laboratory, were the other Penn Medicine Orthopaedic Surgery researchers who received more than $1 million in NIH grants, according to the Blue Ridge Institute list. In all, there were 16 primary investigators in orthopaedic surgery (including three trainees) who received NIH funding.

Last year was a particularly noteworthy year for Soslowsky as the center he leads, Penn’s NIH-sponsored Center for Musculoskeletal Disorders – launched in 2006 – had its core grant renewed for five more years. He also received funding for a study examining the role of a type of collagen in the formation of tendons, which could help explain why some tendons don’t heal properly and inform future therapies.

Several other significant Orthopaedic Surgery projects received a significant amount of NIH funding in 2021. One (led by Qin) sought to unlock lingering mysteries of osteoporosis – which affects 10 million or more Americans – through an investigation of how recently discovered bone marrow adipose cells (MALPs) function. Another (led by Mauck) enabled further work with fibrous “scaffolds” that can be used to recruit and guide new cells to repair damaged meniscus tissue, which is dense and difficult to fix but also one of the most common knee injuries. Another (led by Smith) focuses on the inner core of spinal discs at the molecular level and the changes it goes through to potentially provide greater insight to back pain and injuries.

“It is a great pleasure, pride, and excitement to be part of such an amazing team of hardworking faculty, trainees, and scientific and administrative staff who make all of this possible,” said Mauck. “The breadth and depth of our efforts will not only uncover fundamental mechanisms guiding musculoskeletal development, injury, repair, and regeneration, but will ultimately serve to guide and develop novel treatment modalities for musculoskeletal patients.”

Other departments in the Perelman School of Medicine ranked highly elsewhere on the 2021 Blue Ridge Institute list, too. Penn researchers in the Pathology category, as well as Anatomy and Cell Biology, earned enough NIH award dollars to place them at second in their respective rankings. Penn also ranks third in Radiology and Emergency Medicine funding.

Penn Medicine is one of the world’s leading academic medical centers, dedicated to the related missions of medical education, biomedical research, excellence in patient care, and community service. The organization consists of the University of Pennsylvania Health System and Penn’s Raymond and Ruth Perelman School of Medicine, founded in 1765 as the nation’s first medical school.

The Perelman School of Medicine is consistently among the nation's top recipients of funding from the National Institutes of Health, with $550 million awarded in the 2022 fiscal year. Home to a proud history of “firsts” in medicine, Penn Medicine teams have pioneered discoveries and innovations that have shaped modern medicine, including recent breakthroughs such as CAR T cell therapy for cancer and the mRNA technology used in COVID-19 vaccines.

The University of Pennsylvania Health System’s patient care facilities stretch from the Susquehanna River in Pennsylvania to the New Jersey shore. These include the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, Penn Presbyterian Medical Center, Chester County Hospital, Lancaster General Health, Penn Medicine Princeton Health, and Pennsylvania Hospital—the nation’s first hospital, founded in 1751. Additional facilities and enterprises include Good Shepherd Penn Partners, Penn Medicine at Home, Lancaster Behavioral Health Hospital, and Princeton House Behavioral Health, among others.

Penn Medicine is an $11.1 billion enterprise powered by more than 49,000 talented faculty and staff.

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