Schulich Medicine & Dentistry researchers named Distinguished University Professors

Frank Beier, PhD and Michelle Mottola, PhD
Michelle Mottola, PhD, and Frank Beier, PhD, have been named Distinguished University Professors.
(Photo Credit: Michelle Mottolla - supplied; Frank Beier - Christopher Kindratsky; image design by Megan Morris)

By Megan Stacey, special to Schulich Medicine & Dentistry Communications

Recognized for their leadership, research excellence and community service, two Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry faculty members have been named Distinguished University Professors.

The 2024 recipients are long-time Schulich Medicine & Dentistry professors who have made wide-ranging contributions through their academic work, mentorship of young researchers and dedication to building a vibrant campus community. They are among faculty across Western University named to the President’s Honour Roll.

Frank Beier

Frank Beier, PhD

Canada Research Chair in Musculoskeletal Research
Chair, Department of Physiology and Pharmacology

Mentoring the next generation of scientists keeps Frank Beier motivated through the ups and downs of a career as a leading researcher in bone and joint diseases.

“The best part of this profession is getting to work with young researchers, in particular PhD students, to see them grow and flourish and become strong scientists on their own. The inspiration from playing a role in this process is a constant motivator,” he said.

Beier is an internationally renowned expert in musculoskeletal health. He was named the Canada Research Chair in Musculoskeletal Research in 2001 and has since renewed or upgraded that chair three times.

He has supplemented research excellence with success in teaching over his decades at Western, developing new courses and supervising nearly 50 PhD and master’s candidates.

The Beier Lab studies the ways cartilage and bones develop and the pathways that can lead to bone and joint diseases.

“I did my PhD and postdoctoral training in the area of bone growth and development.  Extending this research into the function of the skeleton – bones and joints – during aging and associated diseases, such as osteoarthritis, was a logical step when I started my own lab at Western,” Beier said.

Beier’s work has been cited more than 10,000 times and he has secured over $16 million in funding as a principal investigator during his career at Western.

“I gain a lot of satisfaction from the progress we’re making towards understanding the mechanisms that drive osteoarthritis. On the other hand, it’s clear we have a lot of work to do still to gain a handle on this devastating disease,” he said.

Beier’s research has positioned him as a “universally trusted scientist with impeccable judgment” who is “sought out, read and cited as the benchmark,” according to his nominators. 

“One of the major characteristics of Beier’s research is his exceptional collaborative spirit and generosity with his time and knowledge,” one supporter wrote.

Many experts stressed Beier’s work has also positioned Western as an international centre of excellence for osteoarthritic research.

Within the Western community, he has a long history of service, including as a member of Senate. Beyond campus he’s acted as a scientific board member, fundraiser and advocate to help patients and charities.

Though health research is a long game, Beier said he’s hopeful.

 “We are really trying to move our research from the lab to the general population,” he said. “We can do something about these challenges.”

Michelle Mottola

Michelle Mottola, PhD

Division Chair, Maternal, Fetal and Newborn Health, Children’s Health Research Institute

Joint appointment with Faculty of Health Sciences

Director, R. Samuel McLaughlin Foundation – Exercise and Pregnancy Laboratory

Healthy moms, healthy babies, healthy communities.

It’s a motto for Michelle Mottola, an embryologist and exercise physiologist who’s dedicated her research to preventing disease – specifically, gestational diabetes – in pregnancy.

“Helping pregnant individuals lead healthy lives is key, because by having a healthy maternal environment, there’s a healthy fetal environment,” Mottola said. “If we can prevent chronic disease from happening during pregnancy, that’s a really important factor for both mother and future baby.”

Jointly appointed in the School of Kinesiology in Health Sciences and the department of anatomy and cell biology at Schulich, Mottola studies the role of lifestyle changes – nutrition and activity – to make a difference for parents and their future children.

She was one of the lead authors on the national guidelines for exercise in pregnancy, published in 2019, and has delivered nearly 200 lectures around the world, her nominators noted.

It’s been a lifetime commitment. 

When Mottola first began studying the role of exercise in pregnancy, there wasn’t much information about its impact on the fetus. She even studied the role of exercise during her own two pregnancies. 

“I wouldn’t want somebody to do something that I didn’t want to do myself,” Mottola said.

Later, she developed the Nutrition and Exercise Lifestyle Intervention Program (NELIP) to help prevent excessive weight gain in pregnancy and, in turn, reduce gestational diabetes risk.

Now, she hopes to build a culturally sensitive version for the Arab community in London, Ont., which is at high risk for gestational diabetes.

“We want to co-design, with the Arab Muslim community, a program that is sensitive to culture and religion,” she said.

Mottola and her team received a four-year special priority operating grant in diabetes, psychosocial health, prevention and self-management from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research to develop it. She hopes the new version of NELIP will provide a template to reach other high-risk populations. 

“We know that it works, which is exciting, but one size does not fit all.”

Now recognized for decades of research and impact, Mottola is humble about the Distinguished University Professor award, saying she shares it with hundreds of research participants who donated their time and energy and the team of other researchers and students with whom she worked. (Anyone who is newly pregnant and wants to participate in the studies done by Mottola’s lab is encouraged to review active studies and reach out here .)

For Mottola, the field has always presented incredible opportunities.

“When we can help prevent disease by helping pregnant individuals lead a healthy lifestyle, we help not just one person, but two.”

Faculty Scholars recognized with 2024 awards