New Investigator Award - Washington DC VA Medical Center
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New Investigator Award

Dr. Michael Harris-Love measures the muscle mass of a Veteran at the Washington DC VA Medical Center.

Dr. Michael Harris-Love measures the muscle mass of a Veteran at the Washington DC VA Medical Center.

Wednesday, July 3, 2019

Dr. Michael Harris-Love, Clinical Investigator and Associate Director of the Human Performance Research Unit of the Washington DC Veterans Affairs Medical Center has earned the 2019 Eugene Michels New Investigator Award by the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA).  Dr. Harris-Love was recognized at the Honors and Awards Ceremony during the 2019 APTA National Conference and Exposition in Chicago, Illinois on June 13.

The Eugene Michels New Investigator Award recognizes outstanding rehabilitation research contributions by physical therapists within 10 years of their post-doctoral training period. Dr. Harris-Love’s research has a heavy focus on rehabilitation science and sarcopenia, the loss of muscle tissue as a part of the aging process.

Dr. Harris-Love's research contributions have positively improved the functional independence of aging Veterans and include: developing sarcopenia screening approaches using point-of-care ultrasound at the DC VAMC and creating a standardized functional battery currently in use for selected neuromuscular disease clinical trials within the NIH Intramural Research Program.

Making his accomplishments even more remarkable are the obstacles he overcame to get to this point in his career. "I worked for six years to save enough money to attend my university," he explained.  He had planned on attending a physical therapy program after completing his undergrad studies, but then a car breakdown forced him to seek a new job.  Luckily, he landed a research assistant position in comparative physiology and functional morphology. His mentor, Dr. Stan Lindstedt, helped him obtain funding through a NASA grant program for his final year.

"From the perspective of a first-generation college graduate, my participation in the NASA Space Grant program was nothing short of transformative." But he never abandoned his goal of earning a clinical degree and completed his physical therapy training at the Mayo Clinic. After joining the Rehabilitation Medicine Department at the NIH Clinical Center, he found himself more and more interested in clinical research.

He says he enjoys rehabilitation science because it draws from so many disciplines and colleagues --from physical therapists, physiatrists, nephrologists, nurses, geriatricians, exercise physiologists, and radiologists.

"Using a common imaging modality in a relatively novel way forces everyone on the team out of their comfort zone." Sonography colleagues are learning from physical therapists, who are working with radiologists to adjust imaging data while the bioengineers are working with sonographers and physical therapist to improve scanning reliability.

"Our interdisciplinary efforts to address age-related muscle dysfunction in Veterans reflect common elements of clinical care: assessment and treatment."

His team of talented post-doctoral fellows and researchers examine optimal modes of exercise-based intervention to counter sarcopenia’s effects. "Regarding treatment, I have an interest in using the unique properties eccentric muscle actions (i.e., the force generation that occurs during active muscle lengthening) for rehabilitation purposes," he said.

He notes that the decline in muscle health is accelerated in the presence of many common chronic conditions seen at VA medical centers. By thinking outside the box and working outside the comfort zones, his team is creating better measurements and better treatments. Dr. Harris-Love is on a mission to raise awareness of the need to formally address muscle health in older Veterans.  "We need to anticipate age-related muscle changes in a Veteran population and be able to take a proactive approach to improving lifelong health and mobility."

For more information about research being conducted at the Washington DC Veterans Affairs Medical Center, contact the Office of Public Affairs, 202-745-4037.

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