Early in my academic career, I was fascinated by how quickly muscles can change and heal themselves. This drove me into the field of skeletal muscle physiology. Before joining the College of Education and Human Development (CEHD) as an assistant professor, I ran a research lab at a U.S. Army hospital and research institute. We would often see catastrophic injuries from combat. Our work was to address the muscle function that is lost from those major injuries.
Under normal circumstances, muscle tissue is very good at healing itself. When an otherwise uninjured person pulls their hamstring from overexertion on the weekends, the muscle can heal that without too much outside intervention. However, when very large injuries occur such as those combat injures, the muscle is unable to regenerate.
A Little Difference Goes a Long Way
While there are a lot of tools to evaluate skeletal muscle—looking at the force generation of the muscle, biochemical makeup, histological composition of the muscle, and other factors—there’s a limit to the amount of possible regeneration with large injuries. But a little difference can go a long way. I believe that the interventions we are working on will help drive therapeutic options even if the extent of those options is limited
For some people, their injuries and poor limb function may interfere with their ability to complete daily activities like playing with their kids. Intervention that allows people to get around a little bit better can help with the completion of daily tasks. Our laboratory is working on early rehabilitation techniques using passive range of motion and neuromuscular electrical stimulation.
Unfortunately, we often see people with major injuries going through rehabilitation or treatment for years without significant improvements in function. Eventually complications become too great, and they end up having to amputate a limb at a later stage. My hope is that our work will help to prevent late-stage amputations. Our current grant funding allows us to research the possibility that starting rehabilitation closer to the time of injury may be beneficial to long-term outcomes.
Working Towards More Effective Injury Rehabilitation
I am excited about my new role as an assistant professor at the College of Education and Human Development. The University of Minnesota offers many opportunities to collaborate across disciplines with other research groups and a wealth of resources.
Looking towards the future, we’ll be working to better understand what the muscle environment looks like after trauma and how it responds to rehabilitation in order to return to better function. This is expected to help identify targets for therapeutic interventions. I hope to better understand options for early interventions and conduct research to develop new rehabilitation techniques that provide better outcomes for major skeletal muscle injuries.
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