University of Utah mechanical engineering assistant professor Claire Acevedo has received the National Institutes of Health Exploratory/Developmental R21 award in which she will research the role diabetes plays in the increased chance for bone fractures.

In addition to the more well-known risk factors for vision and nerve damage, adult diabetics also have double the risk of fracture compared with non-diabetic adults with a similar bone mass, according to Acevedo. She has learned that the brittle behavior in type 2 diabetic bone was primarily due to a substantial reduction in collagen capacity. The change in collagen brittleness is thought to be associated with the increase of specific non-enzymatic cross-links known as Advanced Glycation End products (AGEs) that can prevent collagen molecules from dissipating plastic energy.

Acevedo will develop a model of the mechanics of molecular collagen deformation to understand what makes diabetic bone weaker. Her research will help develop new diagnostic tools to help manage the fracture risk for diabetic patients. The grant is for $325,000 over two years.

“I am thrilled and so grateful to the NIH for giving us the opportunity to establish a new research strategy than can change the way we predict, prevent fracture risk in diabetic population,” she said.

Acevedo received her master’s degree in civil engineering and a doctorate in fracture mechanics, both from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne, Switzerland. She was a postdoctoral fellow at the University of California, Berkeley/Lawrence Berkeley Lab in materials science as well as at the University of California, San Francisco, in orthopaedic surgery.

She joined the University of Utah in 2018 and this year was awarded the National Science Foundation’s Faculty Early Career Development Program (CAREER) Award.