Bones Laid Bare

An EWU biologist explores the foundations of bone regeneration.

Scientists have long known that the bones in our bodies are constantly repairing and rebuilding themselves, this thanks to an extraordinary regenerative process that is essential to maintaining mobility, organ protection and other critical skeletal functions.    

The molecular-level mechanism behind our bones’ remarkable “remodeling” ability, however, is less well understood. Learning more, says Jason Ashley, an associate professor of biology at EWU, could one day lay the groundwork for therapies to assist the more than 50 million Americans who suffer from a host of pathologies related to bone degeneration — most notably osteoporosis.

Jason Ashley

   Ashley’s efforts recently received a big boost in the form of a four-year, $480,000 federal grant from the National Institutes of Health. The funding will allow him and his student research team to continue their exploration of how certain “signaling” proteins regulate the initial stages of the remodeling process. More broadly, it will also provide funds intended to help EWU develop “expanded research capacity” in both molecular biology and other disciplines.

Ashley says the scale of the federal grant represents a potential game changer, paving the way for new and exciting avenues of discovery. “To put it simply,” he says, “research is expensive. You can only do the experiments that your budget allows. When you get a budget the size of this award, it just really opens up possibilities that you couldn’t even consider before.”

Support for pricey material costs are just one benefit, Ashley adds. “My hope is that through this funding, grad students working on this project are going to be under less pressure to supplement their income with outside employment. That will allow them to become more focused on our research.”

The grant will also expand outreach to potential undergraduate researchers: “So we accomplish research goals, but we are continuously expanding the education piece as well.”


Ashley says the scale of the federal grant represents a potential game changer, paving the way for new and exciting avenues of discovery.


Instruction and research aren’t always considered complementary, Ashley continues. But, as a scientist who has long placed a special emphasis on teaching, he’s bullish on both at Eastern.

At EWU, he says, faculty success is not contingent on bringing in grants like his own. “You are not judged solely on your ability to bring in grant funding. You’re judged on your ability to teach. So, if you’re a good teacher and you want to do research, this is the place you should be.”

The project, Fringe Regulation of Notch Signaling in Osteoclasts, was awarded through the NIH’s Support for Research Excellence Program (R16), with funds provided by the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research.