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James Triffitt

B.Sc (Hons), Ph.D.

Emeritus Professor of Bone Metabolism

Jim Triffitt graduated from the Honours School of Biochemistry in the Johnson laboratory at the University of Liverpool in 1961 and gained his Ph.D. in the Faculty of Medicine there in 1964 for his research on vitamin D effects on the skeleton. In 1965 he joined Professor William F. Neuman in the Department of Radiobiology and Atomic Energy Project at the University of Rochester, New York, USA as Instructor and Postdoctoral Fellow to work on the chemical dynamics of bone mineral. This work led to the concept that cellular activity was vitally important in exchange of bone mineral with the circulatory fluids. After two years he was offered a position on the MRC Scientific Staff at the MRC Radiobiology Unit at Harwell working with Dr John Loutit and Dr George Harrison on the metabolism of Strontium 90 and methods to limit uptake of this fission product by the skeleton. In 1969 he moved to Oxford to join Maureen Owen at Geoffrey Herring as MRC External Staff at the Churchill Hospital in the MRC Bone-Seeking Isotopes Research Laboratory to expand his interests in defining the organic matrix of bone. This enabled closer collaborative interactions with orthopaedic surgeons and with Dr Roger Smith, as resident physician, at the Nuffield Orthopaedic Centre. He moved with Maureen Owen in 1974 to the NOC into the old NOC laundry building that was partially refurbished as the MRC Bone Research Laboratory under the auspices of Professor Robert Duthie, as a Permanent Member of MRC External Scientific Staff. Close collaboration with clinical staff continued and additional research interests in rare bone conditions ensued. In particular, the basis and causes of ectopic ossification became of major interest and the biological involvement of the hypothetical molecule proposed by Marshall Urist in 1965 to cause bone induction, bone morphogenetic protein. In 1979 he joined Professor Marshall Urist in the UCLA Bone Research Laboratory for a two-year sabbatical as visiting Professor at the University of California at Los Angeles, USA to work on bone morphogenesis and isolation and further characterisation of the active morphogenetic principle. In 1992 he succeeded Dr Maureen Owen as Director of the MRC Bone Research Laboratory at the Nuffield Orthopaedic Centre. He was appointed University Research Lecturer in 1994 and in 2000 he was awarded the title of Professor of Bone Metabolism. He was a founding member of the Botnar Research Centre when it opened in 2002. During his time in Oxford he has supervised a large number of doctoral and masters research students and undergraduates and many of these have become leaders in areas of musculoskeletal research.

His most recent research defined the characteristics of the stem cells of bone and related tissues and the biological factors controlling bone tissue formation and turnover in normal and pathological conditions. Other research includes studies on the basic principles for tissue engineering of skeletal tissues and on the changes that occur in bone development and metabolism in common diseases such as osteoporosis and in rare diseases such as fibrodysplasia ossificans progressiva (FOP). His FOP Research Group was central in discovery of the causative gene for FOP as part of an international consortium and he set up the University of Oxford FOP Research Fund within the University of Oxford through the Development office. In collaboration with Dr Alex Bullock and scientists at the SGC, the structure of the resultant protein was discovered and the structural basis of FOP proven. Current research continues in collaboration with Professor Graham Russell on the skeletal effects and pharmacology of the bisphosphonate class of drugs, with Dr Alex Bullock and members of the Structural Genomics Consortium in the FOP Research Group on heterotopic ossification and therapy for FOP and with Professors Zhengfeng Cui and Cathy Ye in the IBME in investigations on osteogenic stem cells. In addition, he is an active Faculty Member of Faculty 1000 and continues work on Medical School Committees and lectures on musculoskeletal topics within the University and internationally.