In the fall of 2008, Tim Griffin, Ph.D., joined OMRF’s scientific faculty. Fresh out of post-doctoral training at Duke University, the young bioengineer, then 34, was hoping to get his career as a medical researcher started on the right track.
What a difference two years makes.
This month, the Arthritis Foundation cited one of Griffin’s research papers as the second most influential publication in the field for all of 2009. The Foundation has also awarded Griffin a $200,000 grant to continue his work, which examines the role of the weight-regulating hormone leptin in the progression of arthritis.
“It’s been a very exciting few years,” says Griffin, an assistant member of OMRF’s Free Radical Biology and Aging Research Program. “Our initial findings yielded a lot of unanswered questions, and what we learn through future studies could have a broad impact on improving our population’s health.”
In research using obese laboratory mice, Griffin found that osteoarthritis in the animals may not only be caused by carrying too much weight but also by other obesity-related factors, such as leptin production. These findings are consistent with prior research showing that obese people are also more likely to have osteoarthritis in non-weight bearing joints, such as the hand.
“Osteoarthritis is an incredibly painful disease. It’s the primary cause of disability in the United States, and it creates a real challenge for those suffering from this disease to live active, healthy lives,” he said. “If we can stop the vicious cycle and stop the osteoarthritis, we might make it easier for people to exercise, lose weight, and live a longer, healthier life.”
Griffin’s findings, published in the journal Arthritis & Rheumatism, were chosen for recognition from among leading papers published in numerous high-profile scientific journals, including the New England Journal of Medicine, Science, Nature and the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
The research also led to the award of an Innovative Research Grant from the Arthritis Foundation. The grant, which begins July 1, will provide funding to continue the leptin studies and further investigate its role in the progression of osteoarthritis.
Griffin said the next step in the research is to tease apart the independent effects of leptin and increased joint loads in the production of inflammation and osteoarthritis.
“Obesity is an epidemic all over the United States, but especially in Oklahoma,” he said. A study released earlier this month by the American College of Sports Medicine ranked Oklahoma City 50th in fitness, placing it lowest among the country’s largest cities. “Hopefully, this research will lead to a healthier and happier state.”