From Bench to Bedside

Partnership illustrates synergies possible through collaborative research

Julie Glowacki, left, and Meryl LeBoff. Photo courtesy Marjorie Montemayor-Quellenberg/BWH.

As a scientist devoted to studying bone diseases, Julie Glowacki was in need of a clinically oriented research partner to help her successfully test hypotheses about mechanisms of skeletal aging and disease. 

Glowacki reached out to Meryl LeBoff, a recognized authority on osteoporosis and metabolic bone disease, to ask if she would be interested in collaborating on research. The result of their conversation is a long-lasting and highly successful interdisciplinary partnership that has allowed these two investigators to tackle important research questions that have advanced science and reduced the burden of disease.

Glowacki, HMS professor of orthopedic surgery and director of the Skeletal Biology Laboratory at Brigham and Women's Hospital, and LeBoff, HMS professor of medicine and director of the Skeletal Health and Osteoporosis Center at BWH, were recently featured as keynote speakers at the inaugural Women in Medicine Month. The goal of the event, which was cosponsored by the BWH Center for Faculty Development and Diversity and its affiliate offices, was to celebrate and highlight the collaborations of women researchers across different disciplines. 

Glowacki and LeBoff’s research partnership illustrates the fruitful synergies made possible through collaborative research, as well as the ability of such interdisciplinary partnerships to successfully translate research findings from the bench to the bedside. For example, upon determining that 75 percent of hip fracture patients at BWH had vitamin D deficiency, they established a successful collaboration between the endocrinology and orthopedics divisions to implement hospital-based clinical approaches with the Brigham Fracture Intervention Team Initiatives (B-FIT) to reverse the vitamin D deficiency and to treat the underlying osteoporosis in these patients.  

“To understand the mechanisms through which vitamin D deficiency and aging affect bone formation, we have forged a multidisciplinary collaboration to carry out clinical, translational and basic research. Our research team evaluates clinical parameters preoperatively in enrolled subjects scheduled for orthopedic surgery, and we correlate these clinical parameters with the in vitro behavior of the cells in culture obtained through discarded surgical tissue. These investigations have provided valuable in vivo and in vitro models to study human bone biology and the mechanisms through which aging and vitamin D and a number of medical conditions and treatments may affect bone,” said LeBoff.

LeBoff describes the climate at HMS and its affiliates as providing an “unprecedented opportunity to foster collaborative research among women researchers.”

She cites a variety of contributing factors, including the increased number of women in medicine and research, greater cross-talk among researchers across various departments and divisions, and the Harvard Catalyst program for enhancing the ability to share research initiatives across institutions. 

Glowacki emphasizes the important role that “clinical champions” such as LeBoff play in helping scientists to translate their research to clinical care.

“Our environment is filled with brilliant and industrious scholars looking for collaborators. When you encounter someone with a similar interest, let's say at a seminar or meeting, lay out your idea and start a conversation,” said Glowacki.