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Exercise guidelines for children with muscular dystrophy, the use of wearable sensors to address autism-related motor traits, improved care for individuals living with limb loss, and lower extremity motor control are the targets of new research efforts being launched thanks to APTA's financial support of Foundation for Physical Therapy Research fellowships and scholarships.

The foundation recently announced its awards of fellowship and scholarship funding to 12 promising physical therapy researchers. Among the recipients, four were funded through support of the APTA Scholarship Fund.

The $100,000 New Investigator Fellowship Training Initiative was awarded to Adam J. Bittel, PT, DPT, PhD, from Children’s National Medical Center. Bittel's research will look at current exercise guidelines for facioscapulohumeral muscular dystrophy, or FSHD. Physical therapists have a central role in the treatment of inherited neuromuscular conditions such as FSHD; however, current treatment recommendations are based on limited clinical trials data and low-certainty evidence.

“The NIFTI provides unparalleled support for physical therapists aiming to advance their ongoing research, to prepare for the next step in their careers, and to make meaningful contributions to the rapidly growing scope of physical therapist practice,” said Bittel.

APTA-supported Promotion of Doctoral Studies I scholarships (up to $7,500) were awarded to Kristin A. Johnson, PT, DPT, from the University of Iowa, and Jeffrey Konrad, PT, DPT, from the Washington University in St. Louis. Johnson will use the scholarship to look at motor control strategies related to lower extremities to mitigate risk and improve rehabilitation. Konrad will use wearable sensors in real-world environments to help quantify autism-related motor traits. Konrad’s research could be used to inform objective autism diagnosis or help set treatment priorities.

An APTA-supported PODS II Scholarship (up to $15,000) was awarded to Emma H. Beisheim, PT, DPT, of the University of Delaware. Beisheim will research ways to improve care for individuals living with limb loss — including novel methods of evaluating, monitoring, and addressing post-amputation pain using low-cost, noninvasive clinical tools.

Researchers funded in 2019 and those receiving 2020 funding face new challenges in the current health crisis, but Beisheim believes the new environment offers opportunities for improved and expanded care.

“As we embrace the world of telehealth and learn to overcome the barriers of non-contact evaluation and treatment, I believe physical therapists and researchers will have a new role in broadening and tailoring outpatient care to patients in diverse settings, whom we may not have been effectively reaching through traditional treatment models,” she said.

Winners of foundation funding must participate in a rigorous application process modeled after the National Institutes of Health — a process that sets the foundation apart in physical therapy research funding.

Since 1979, the foundation has awarded more than $19 million to promising researchers and research projects.

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