Dr. Walter Lowe
Dr. Walter Lowe

UTHealth, Steadman Philippon Research Institute partner to improve musculoskeletal care
If you are an adult in the United States, there is approximately a one in two chance you will be affected by arthritis, back pain, osteoporosis, or some other type of musculoskeletal condition. You may even need surgery.

Researchers working on innovative treatments for these conditions at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth) and the Steadman Philippon Research Institute (SPRI) in Vail, Colo., have signed a collaboration agreement.

Research is focused on boosting the body’s natural healing powers and is being conducted collaboratively by scientists in the UTHealth Department of Orthopedic Surgery and SPRI.

“Our goal is to be a leading center for regenerative medicine,” said Walter R. Lowe, M.D., chair of the Department of Orthopedic Surgery.

Working to reduce the approximately 1 million total joint replacements performed in the United States each year, researchers said they believe that in the future they may be able to repair joint damage with a patient’s own stem cells along with platelet-rich plasma and exercise.

Dr. Johnny Huard
Dr. Johnny Huard

These types of treatments are also seen as a way to speed recovery following surgery.

Lowe said the researchers are working closely with many of the orthopedic surgeons on the faculty of UTHealth who see patients at facilities operated by the Memorial Hermann Health System and the Harris Health System.

SPRI and The Steadman Clinic are known worldwide for their research into the causes, prevention and treatment of orthopaedic disorders and together have been designated as a National Medical Center of the United States Olympic Committee.

SPRI was founded in 1988 by retired orthopedic surgeon J. Richard Steadman, M.D. and is now led by Marc Philippon, M.D., the managing partner of The Steadman Clinic and co-chairman of SPRI.

Johnny Huard, Ph.D., who is leading the collaborative projects between the two institutions, joined the staffs at UTHealth and SPRI in 2015. He is the director of the Center for Tissue Engineering and Aging Research at the Brown Foundation Institute of Molecular Medicine for the Prevention of Human Diseases at UTHealth.

“Using the body’s healing powers to aid in recovery has always been central to our mission at The Steadman Clinic and SPRI,” Philippon said. “Dr. Huard is an authority in regenerative medicine and one of the premier researchers in that field in North America.  His leadership will maximize the efforts from both Houston and Vail and will help to translate scientific discoveries into new treatments.”

“UTHealth is the ideal partner for us to expand and accelerate our regenerative medicine research,” added Dan Drawbaugh, CEO of SPRI and The Steadman Clinic. “This marks a major step forward in the stem cell research world. Since Dr. Huard’s arrival, we have been working closely with the staff at UTHealth to create a world-class partnership. Our ultimate goal is to advance the science and, most importantly, translate it to clinical practice where we accelerate life-changing medical treatments and therapies for our patients.”

“We will take results from research done at the UTHealth and SPRI labs and test our premise that transplanting a person’s own stem cells will delay aging-related disease and conditions such as osteoarthritis and osteoporosis,” said Huard, who has appointments at both institutions and formerly ran a stem cell research center at the University of Pittsburgh. “In the process, we are learning how to make healing and recovery better.”

“Dr. Huard’s work is shedding new light on the mechanisms of aging and paving the way for cellular therapies,” Lowe said. “We believe that our collaborative approach to research with SPRI, under Dr. Huard’s direction, will provide new funding opportunities and build a talented research team to achieve a critical mass in this area that neither of our institutions could do alone.”

Huard and his research team at UTHealth are conducting orthopedic research in animal models and plan to begin human trials.

In particular, Huard is interested in exploring the use of muscle-derived adult stem cells to shorten recovery times following orthopedic surgeries and to accelerate healing through the use of platelet-rich plasma.

Much of the work involving stem cells to treat musculoskeletal conditions is still in the experimental stage.

Not limited to musculoskeletal conditions, Huard plans to explore the use of adult stem cells to treat heart disease, Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy, and aging. Huard also plans to look at stem cell therapies for neurological conditions, such as concussions.

Huard added that stem cell therapeutics have already entered the clinical arena in the areas of heart repair and bladder dysfunction.

Lowe envisions additional collaborations with researchers at other institutions in the Texas Medical Center and across the world. He said that doctors training to be orthopedic surgeons at UTHealth will receive training in the area of regenerative medicine.

Lowe is the Edward T. Smith, M.D. Chair in Orthopaedic Surgery at UTHealth and the medical director of the Memorial Hermann IRONMAN Sports Medicine Institute -Texas Medical Center. He is a team physician for the Houston Texans and Houston Rockets, as well as the University of Houston.

Philippon is the managing partner of The Steadman Clinic as well as the co-chair, director of sports medicine fellowship and director of hip research at SPRI. Philippon specializes in sports medicine hip disorders and is recognized by his peers in U.S. News & World Report as being among the top 1 percent in the nation in his specialty.  He is an adjunct associate professor of orthopedic surgery, Department of Orthopaedic Surgery, University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine.

Huard is the vice chair for research in the Department of Orthopedic Surgery at UTHealth, as well as the Chief Scientific Officer at the Steadman Philippon Research Institute. His research is supported by the National Institutes of Health, the Department of Defense and other organizations.