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About Frank Beier

Dr. Frank Beier is a developmental biologist whose lab mainly researches skeletal development, specifically the regulation of bone and cartilage cells, and how that regulation predisposes people to musculoskeletal disorders like osteoarthritis. He is also an Investigator with the Bone and Joint Institute

Children's Health Collaborators: Tom Appleton, Nathalie Berube, and Qingping Feng

Skeletal development is a complex process that involves interactions between multiple cell types and is regulated by numerous genetic and environmental factors. Deregulation of any of these factors can lead to serious pathologies such as various forms of dwarfism (e.g. chondrodysplasias) or skeletal tumors. Moreover, improper skeletal development is directly linked to diseases of the adult skeleton such as osteoarthritis.

The majority of our skeleton - for example the ribs, vertebrae and the bones of our limbs - form through the process of endochondral ossification in which the later bone is first laid down as a cartilage model. The cells of the cartilage, the chondrocytes, control the length, shape and function of endochondral bones. Our lab is interested in the signaling pathways and molecular mechanisms that regulate the biology of chondrocytes and other skeletal cells. In this context, we follow three overlapping areas of research.

One focus of the lab is the role of intracellular signaling pathways in chondrocytes. We have demonstrated important functions for signaling molecules of the Rho GTPase and several kinase families (e.g. MAP, PI3K/AKT, GSK-3) in the control of chondrocyte proliferation and differentiation. Current projects address the function of selected signaling molecules in cartilage in vivo and the elucidation of their mechanisms of action (such as effects on gene expression and cytoskeletal organization). We are especially interested in the interactions of chondrocytes with other cell types, including endothelial and perichondral cells as well as osteoblasts and osteoclasts. We utilize knockout mice, organ and cell cultures coupled to a large variety of molecular and cellular assays in these studies. These studies are funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR).

A second line of investigation addresses the roles of transcriptional regulators of chondrocyte differentiation. In particular, we are interested in members of the nuclear receptor family, such as glucocorticoid receptor and RORalpha. We are using genetically altered mice in conjunction with microarray analyses and cell biological approaches to identify the roles and target genes of these transcription factors in skeletal development. More recently, we have expanded these studies to explore epigenetic mechanisms involved in cartilage gene expression and to examine of the roles of nuclear receptors in the pathogenesis of osteoarthritis. These studies are also funded by CIHR.

Our third area of interest are the molecular mechanisms involved in the progression of osteoarthritis. Through microarray analyses we have identified several pathways (such as TGFalpha-EGFR signaling) that possible contribute to osteoarthritis. We are now testing the function of some of these pathways using genetic and surgical models of osteoarthritis, together with cell and organ culture and biochemical techniques. In particular, we are testing whether drugs that modulate activity of these pathways present suitable approaches to halt or slow osteoarthritis progression in animal models. These studies are supported by CIHR and the National Institutes of Health (NIH, US).

Frank Beier is the Canada Research Chair in Musculoskeletal Research at the University of Western Ontario and a member of Western’s Bone and Joint Institute. He is a Professor and Chair of the Department of Physiology and Pharmacology. His lab explores mechanisms controlling cartilage and joint biology, using genetically engineered mice in combination with surgical, dietary and activity manipulations. This is a natural fit with the objectives of the Bone and Joint Institute, an environment that has helped to foster collaborations with fellow researchers from other fields such as clinicians (surgeons, rheumatologists) and imaging scientists. As an engaged member of the Institute’s Operations Committee, Dr. Beier sees value in Institute priorities that improve his training program and that support the acquisition of additional research funds. Dr. Beier has published over 100 peer-reviewed articles and gave 100 invited presentations. His work is supported by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (from which he won a foundation award in the inaugural competition in 2015) and The Arthritis Society. He was a member of the Board of Directors of the Osteoarthritis Research Society International and is a current member of the Faculty of 1000 and several editorial boards, including the Deputy Editor for Osteoarthritis & Cartilage. He was the Chair of the 2017 Cartilage Gordon Conference and has recently completed a four-year term on the SBSR study section at NIH.

Research Interest Area: Musculoskeletal disorders
Research Overview: Skeletal development, Osteoarthritis, Genomics, Cytoskeleton, Extracellular matrix

Dr. Frank Beier received his Ph.D in Biology at the University of Erlangen-Nürnberg, Germany, in 1995. He is now a Professor in the Department of Physiology & Pharmacology at The University of Western Ontario. Dr. Beier is the current director of the Collaborative Graduate Program in Developmental Biology at The University of Western Ontario. He holds a Tier II Canada Research Chair in Musculoskeletal Health, received a Dean’s Award of Excellence for Graduate Student Teaching in 2008 and a Faculty Scholar Award in 2009. He was the 2010 Scientist of the Year at the Children’s Health Research Institute. Dr. Beier s lab works on the signaling pathways and molecular mechanisms that regulate the biology of cartilage cells (chondrocytes) and other skeletal cells, both during development and in osteoarthritis. In this research, the Beier lab uses a combination of gene expression profiling, in-depth studies of identified genes in genetically altered mice and surgical models in mice and rats. Beiers studies are currently funded by CIHR and NIH. Currently he is a member of CIHR and NIH peer review committees, of the Faculty of 1000 and the Editorial Board of PLoS One.


Present Professor, Western University Department of Physiology and Pharmacology
Present Scientist, Lawson Health Research Institute ‐ Children's Health Research Institute (CHRI)
Canada Research Chair, Western University Bone & Joint Institute


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