Mitchell B. Schaffler, a Distinguished Professor of Biomedical Engineering at The City College of New York’s Grove School of Engineering, was awarded a five-year, $3.2 million grant from National Institute of Arthritis, Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases, part of the National Institutes of Health.

Schaffler is researching the biomechanical and molecular mechanisms by which skeletal tissue, such as bones, grows strong or decays as people grow older. This new grant will fund his research into determining how changes in osteocytes – the cells that reside inside bones – contribute to the development of osteoporosis and bone fragility.

Osteoporosis and resulting bone fragility are a major public health threat affecting more that 40 million people in the United States. According to the National Osteoporosis Foundation, fractures resulting from osteoporosis are both dangerous to individuals – 25 percent of hip-fracture patients age 50 and over die in the year following the fracture and costly to our health care system ($19 billion annually in the U.S. alone).

“This grant by the National Institutes of Health acknowledges the significance of professor Schaffler’s work and is another example of CUNY’s dedicated faculty actively engaged in impactful scientific research with benefits that extend far beyond New York City,” said CUNY Interim Chancellor Vita C. Rabinowitz.

Schaffler’s work will build on recent discoveries by his team of researchers who found that osteocytes possess a specialized complex of proteins and membrane channels that act as mechanical sensors. With age or hormone-level shifts – such as estrogen loss by women during menopause – these sensors deteriorate.

“Bones are like muscles; you either use it or lose it,” said Schaffler, who is also the Wallace H. Coulter Professor of Biomedical Engineering and the department chair. “The cells in your bones act as mechanical sensors and grow strong due to physical activity, exercise, etc. But as you age, the cells eventually grow deaf as it were, so that they no longer respond appropriately and that can lead to bone fragility.”

The City University of New York is the nation’s leading urban public university. Founded in 1847, CUNY counts 13 Nobel Prize and 23 MacArthur (“Genius”) grant winners among its alumni. CUNY students, alumni and faculty have garnered scores of other prestigious honors over the years in recognition of historic contributions to the advancement of the sciences, business, the arts and myriad other fields. The University comprises 25 institutions: 11 senior colleges, seven community colleges, William E. Macaulay Honors College at CUNY, CUNY Graduate Center, CUNY Graduate School of Journalism, CUNY School of Labor and Urban Studies, CUNY School of Law, CUNY School of Professional Studies and CUNY Graduate School of Public Health and Health Policy. The University serves more than 275,000 degree-seeking students. CUNY offers online baccalaureate and master’s degrees through the School of Professional Studies.