Benjamin A. Alman, MD

Ben Alman, MD
James R. Urbaniak Professor and Chair

Dr. Alman is James R. Urbaniak Professor and Chair of Orthopaedic Surgery at Duke University. Additionally, he has held or holds the following appointments:

Dr. Alman earned his M.D. degree from Jefferson Medical College of Thomas Jefferson University (Pennsylvania) in 1986. Prior to joining Duke University, Dr. Alman was the A. J. Latner Professor and Head of the division of Orthopedic surgery at the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto, Ontario, Senior Scientist in developmental and stem cell biology at Sick Kids, and Vice Chair of the Department of Surgery at the University of Toronto.

Dr. Alman is the recipient of the Premier's Research Excellence Award, the Huene Award, the OREF Research Award, and the Royal College Medal in Surgery.

Dr. Alman is an orthopaedic clinician-scientist whose research focuses on understanding the role of developmentally important processes in the pathologic process involving the musculoskeletal system. The long-term goal of his work is to use this knowledge to identify improved therapeutic approaches to orthopaedic pathologic disorders. He makes extensive use of genetically modified mice to model human disease and used this approach to identify new drug therapies for musculoskeletal tumors and to improve the outcome of related processes in cartilage, skin, and bone. As part of this work, Dr. Alman generated novel genetically modified mice to study tumors and reparative processes and is using these to develop new therapies. He also works on cellular heterogeneity in bone tumors, such as sarcomas, and how this relates to developmental processes. His lab identified a subpopulation of tumor-initiating cells in musculoskeletal tumors and found that this subpopulation of is responsible for sarcoma self-renewal.

Another focus of the Alman Lab is to determine the regulation of mesenchymal cells in repair processes. Dr. Alman’s work on beta-catenin (ß-catenin) using transgenic mice was the first demonstration of the importance of this pathway in fracture repair. More recently, he used lineage-tracing studies to investigate the role of macrophage cells in skin and bone repair, and found a novel role for young hematopoietic cells in rejuvenating fracture repair.

Dr. Alman is the principal investigator on several NIH grants; has more than 175 peer-reviewed publications in journals such as LancetCell, and Nature Medicine; and has supervised over 30 graduate students and postdoctoral research trainees in his lab. He was recruited to Duke from Toronto’s Hospital for Sick Children in 2013.

Dr. Alman identified somatic mutations resulting in ß-catenin mediated transcription in more than 70% of desmoid tumors. Based on this work, ß-catenin analysis is used to diagnose this tumor type, and mutational analysis is used as a prognostic test.

Dr. Alman’s group found that ß-catenin mediated transcription is activated during the proliferative phase of wound healing and regulates scar size, as well as osteoblast differentiation in fracture repair. He was the first to show that circulating factors regulate fracture healing and ß-catenin during repair, and using parabiosis, found that factors from the blood of juvenile animals can rejuvenate fracture repair.

The first mutation causing enchondromas (a benign pre-malignant cartilage tumor) was identified by Dr. Alman and his research team. Using a mouse expressing the mutation, he identified pathways regulating tumor progression.   

Dr. Alman and his group were the first to show that mesenchymal tumors contain a subpopulation of cells with tumor propagating characteristics and that targeting this cell population can be used to treat sarcomas.

Current Projects

  • Identification of properties of tumor propagating cells that can be therapeutically targeted in mouse and human sarcomas
  • Use of genetically modified mice to determine how novel members in the hedgehog-signaling cascade regulate bone development, growth, cartilaginous neoplasia and the development of osteoarthritis
  • Study of interactions between hematopoietic and mesenchymal cells, and the role of novel proteins involved in this interaction in bone and cartilage development, repair, and the rejuvenation of fracture healing
  • Discovery of novel therapies for desmoid tumor, a mesenchymal tumor also called aggressive fibromatosis, using cell culture and genetically modified mice

Selected Publications & Grants



  • Training Program in Developmental and Stem Cell Biology (Mentor), awarded by National Institutes of Health, administered by Basic Science Departments, 2001-2027 More info
  • Resorbable, Phsophorylated Poly(ester urea) Surgical Adhesive to Enhance Fracture Healing (Advisor), awarded by National Institutes of Health, administered by Trauma, Acute, and Critical Care Surgery, 2021-2026 More info
  • Targeting the metastasis initiating cell in undifferentiated pleomorphic sarcoma (Principal Investigator), awarded by National Institutes of Health, administered by Orthopaedics, 2021-2026 More info
  • The role of macrophage subpopulations in the rejuvenation of fracture repair (Principal Investigator), awarded by National Institutes of Health, administered by Orthopaedics, 2021-2025 More info
  • Exercise Induced Muscle Secreted Factors That Modify Osteoarthritis (OA) Severity (Principal Investigator), awarded by National Institutes of Health, administered by Orthopaedics, 2021-2023 More info
  • Duke CTSA (TL1) Year 5 (Mentor), awarded by National Institutes of Health, administered by Institutes and Centers, 2018-2023 More info
  • Cabinet Radiation Therapy System for Small Animals (Major User), awarded by North Carolina Biotechnology Center, administered by Radiation Oncology, 2022-2023 More info
  • Genetic approaches to skin regeneration in zebrafish (Co-Mentor), awarded by National Institutes of Health, administered by Surgery, Plastic, Maxillofacial, and Oral Surgery, 2020-2023 More info
  • Exercise-induced recovery of intervertebral disc health (Mentor), awarded by National Institutes of Health, administered by Orthopaedics, 2020-2022 More info
  • Translational Research in Surgical Oncology (Mentor), awarded by National Institutes of Health, administered by Surgery, Surgical Sciences, 2002-2022 More info