Willcocks receives funding to develop MR biomarkers of bone quality for individuals with Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy

Dr. Rebecca Willcocks, principal investigator of the new grant, MRI Biomarkers of Bone Quality in DMD.
Dr. Rebecca Willcocks

A new $1.3 million Translational Research Partnership Award from the Department of Defense, funded through the Muscular Dystrophy Research Program, will support the development of magnetic resonance, or MR, biomarkers of bone quality for individuals with Duchenne muscular dystrophy.

Duchenne muscular dystrophy, or DMD, is a neuromuscular disorder that affects roughly one in 5,000 males born each year in the United States. The disease causes muscles to weaken over time, which also causes the bones to become weaker.

Healthy bones stay strong when they are loaded, which happens during activities like walking or jumping because this stimulates bone-building cells. During these activities, muscles are also pulling on the bone. However, most individuals with DMD need to use wheelchairs by their early teens, so they do not receive either of these forces, which then makes their bones very fragile. Additionally, the use of glucocorticoids that help treat the disease

UF researcher and principal investigator of MRI Biomarkers of Bone Quality in DMD, Rebecca Willcocks, PhD, research assistant professor in the Department of Physical Therapy, aims to develop noninvasive tools to measure bone quality to determine when an individual may be at risk of a fracture.

With an MRI scanner, the research team can measure the structural integrity of the inner spongy bone and the outer compact bone to identify changes that contribute to bone weakness.

In partnership with world-leaders in bone imaging at Penn Medicine Chamith Rajapakse, PhD, associate professor of radiology, and Felix Wehrli, PhD, professor of radiologic science, biochemistry, and biophysics, the team hopes that they can establish a foundation for the use of these measures in clinical trials of potential bone-protective therapies in DMD, and potentially for its future use in clinical care of people with DMD.

In addition to Drs. Willcocks, Rajapakse, and Wehrli, the research team includes Krista Vandenborne, PhD, distinguished professor and chair of the Department of Physical Therapy at the UF College of Public Health and Health Professions; Glenn Walter, PhD, a professor in the Department of Physiology and Functional Genomics at the UF College of Medicine; Michael Daniels, ScD, professor and chair of the Department of Statistics at the UF College of Liberal Arts & Sciences; and Ibrahim Tuna, MD, a clinical associate professor of radiology at the UF College of Medicine.