The research goals of Robert J. Pignolo, M.D., Ph.D., are to understand the mechanisms underlying skeletal aging, and to use insights from rare bone diseases to inform new ways of studying and treating conditions of skeletal dysfunction. Dr. Pignolo's work has relevance to stem cell biology, regenerative medicine and the influence of micro-environmental effects on cellular aging.
- Aging of bone. Dr. Pignolo has developed approaches and methods that have enabled investigations into the osteobiology of aging. He established a method for confirming the existence of dysfunctional telomeres in aging bone, which suggests the likelihood that cellular senescence plays a contributory role in age-related bone loss. He studies the cellular and micro-environmental basis for bone aging.
- Mesenchymal stem cell biology. Dr. Pignolo has demonstrated that functional reconstitution by young stem cells in vivo delays aspects of accelerated bone aging and may extend lifespan. He also identified vibration-induced bone-enhancing (vibe) genes in stem cells, as proof-of-principle for development of anabolic agents to promote bone and muscle strength.
- Circulating osteogenic precursor (COP) cells. Dr. Pignolo first described COP cells as hematopoietic-derived cells with osteogenic potential that can seed sites of inflammation. He works to discover how these cells contribute to diverse conditions such as extraskeletal bone formation and end-stage aortic valvular disease.
- Disorders of extraskeletal bone formation. Dr. Pignolo examines the natural history and early lesion formation in rare diseases of ectopic bone formation. He is a principal investigator of the first industry-funded clinical trial of the retinoic acid receptor agonist palovarotene for the treatment of fibrodysplasia ossificans progressiva (FOP).
Significance to patient care
The work performed by Dr. Pignolo has tremendous clinical implications for age-related osteoporosis, fractures, various conditions of disease-associated bone loss, rare bone diseases such as FOP, common conditions of heterotopic bone formation, frailty and sarcopenia.