U.S. Office of Naval Research Awards $4.2 Million Grant to UK College of Health Sciences

From: Sep 29, 2015 | kbowman

Scott. M. Lephart, Ph.D., dean of the University of Kentucky College of Health Sciences, and colleagues have received a $4,188,000 grant from the Department of Defense to support research on injury prevention and performance optimization in U.S. Special Forces. 

The award, the largest ever received by the College of Health Sciences, coincides with the establishment of the new UK Sports Science Research Institute (SSRI). The award allows Lephart to continue providing leadership of one of the six U.S. Special Forces research projects he launched during his 27-year tenure at the University of Pittsburgh.    

“The award permits our crucial work with Special Forces to continue and aligns with the long-term aims of the project under the newly established SSRI,” said Lephart, who also serves as Endowed Chair of Orthopaedic Research at UK. “This is the beginning of a reinvigorated research enterprise at the UK College of Health Sciences, as well as the addition of a vital asset to the research efforts of UK HealthCare and the University.” 

The planned 6,000-square-foot SSRI will be a multidisciplinary scientific center focused on contemporary approaches to prevention and treatment of sports injuries and concussions, performance optimization, musculoskeletal health and rehabilitation, metabolism, and neuro-cognition. Scheduled for completion in summer 2016, the SSRI will be located on the UK campus. 

“This grant brings a unique opportunity to the University and to the Commonwealth,” said UK President Dr. Eli Capilouto. "SSRI's purpose meshes well with the university's commitment, as a land-grant institution, to the Commonwealth and its people.” 

Eight new faculty members will join UK to work with the SSRI. Two of the faculty members are based in Lexington: John Abt, Ph.D., director of the SSRI; and Nicholas Heebner, M.S., A.T.C., SSRI laboratory manager. Other faculty members, including Josh Winters, Ph.D., and Scott Royer, M.S., who will operate the U.S. Marine Corps Special Operation Command (MARSOC) lab at Camp Lejeune in Jacksonville, North Carolina.   

MARSOC is the Marine Corps’ arm of the U.S. Special Forces. Through concentrated and specialized training and education, MARSOC develops and maintains agile combat athletes, organized in small, adaptable teams of Marine Raiders. 

MARSOC Marines must complete a two-phase assessment and selection process, starting with a 21-day course that begins and ends with an intense physical evaluation. Those who move forward from phase one proceed to a nine-month course meant to transform a Marine into a Critical Skills Operator (CSO) or Special Operations Officer. Approximately 100 Marines are selected as CSOs each year. 

Musculoskeletal injuries are common during the demanding training, as well as during combat. The short-term and long-term effects of such injuries include loss of active duty time, financial impacts and the adverse effects on the overall health of military personnel. The aim of the research is to develop strategies for injury prevention and performance optimization, similar to those used with athletes, but adapted to the specialized needs of military personnel. 

“These Marines are training to become small teams of elite warriors expected to be at peak performance in extremely dangerous and unpredictable situations,” Lephart said. “There is absolutely no room for sustaining a preventable injury. That’s why our work is so mission-critical for the Special Forces.”        

The SSRI staff will conduct a variety of field studies focused on the physical demands on MARSOC Marines during the nine-month course. For example, SSRI researchers will identify common injury patterns among MARSOC Marines and develop clinical trials with their human performance personnel to test training programs targeted at injury prevention.  

“The SSRI’s work with MARSOC has the potential to inform and improve their resiliency, and ultimately improve their mission outcomes,” Lephart said. 

The SSRI’s reach will extend beyond military personnel. The SSRI will provide outreach opportunities incorporating applicable strategies on injury prevention, human performance, sports nutrition and overall wellness to recreational and competitive youth, high school, collegiate, professional, and senior athletes, coaches, parents and other health care providers. 

Dr. Michael Karpf, UK executive vice president for health affairs, predicts that SSRI's impact will extend far beyond the realms of tactical warriors and professional athletes. “The bottom line – the SSRI is a powerful merger of research, outreach and collaboration, enhancing UK HealthCare's efforts to address chronic disease and poor health in Kentucky,” Karpf said. “The SSRI is dedicated to research excellence, community outreach, and collaboration – all directed toward one outcome: optimal health through healthier lifestyles.”

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