When it comes to “bench to bedside,” Washington University Program in Physical Therapy researchers are moving the field forward. From basic research seeking to understand neurological pathways and mechanisms to clinical studies that translate knowledge to practical applications for new treatment approaches to be used in the clinic and in the community, the program’s Movement Science Research Center (MSRC) is a hive of collaborative inquiry and discovery.  

During the past year, the MSRC expanded to include new lab space for movement science researchers and welcomed two new researchers to the collegial collection of stellar scientists already working at the center.  

Space reallocation means that researchers will be closer to one another, working in shared or adjacent areas, enhancing communication and ease of collaboration, explains Dr. Linda Van Dillen, Division Director of Research in the Program. “For younger researchers, who are still in pre- or post-doctoral programs and working with faculty mentors, this helps them understand the importance of communication and interaction,” she says. For example, currently we have trainees in movement science, biomedical engineering, mechanical engineering and materials science all sharing work space.

Laura McPherson, DPT, PhD, Assistant Professor of Physical Therapy with Linda Van Dillen, PT, PhD, FAPTA, Professor, Division Director of Research in Physical Therapy, Associate Director, Musculoskeletal Research

That kind of emphasis on, and acceptance of, interdisciplinary work is one reason the center was so attractive to Dr. Jacob McPherson and Dr. Laura McPherson, a married couple who joined the center in 2019, bringing unique skills and expertise to the center’s labs.  

 Jacob McPherson toggles between two lab environments, both under the center’s umbrella. One is shared with Laura where the couple work together on a joint project, while the other allows for work in conjunction with PT Program faculty Dr. Todd Cade and Dr. Gretchen Meyer. The projects explore various aspects of the interrelationships between the brain’s neural control of movement and pain processing, Jacob says.  

 My area of research focuses on neurological rehabilitation,” he explains. “Washington University is quite strong in that area, both within the PT Program and across the medical school, even extending into biomedical engineering. The chance to be in a place that is so strong in neuroscience, neurophysiology and neurological rehabilitation is a tremendous opportunity.”  

Jacob G. McPherson, PhD, Assistant Professor of Physical Therapy and Anesthesiology; Affiliate Faculty of Biomedical Engineering

 Laura McPherson, who studies how the nervous system changes in people who have had strokes or have multiple sclerosis, agrees. “Being in a place where there’s a wealth of active researchers nearby, all of them excited and open to learning more about each other’s work, is one of the most crucial aspects of a successful research program, and not every place has that,” she says.  

 The McPhersons’ work fills a specific gap, Van Dillen notes. “Both Jacob and Laura are biomedical engineers and neuroscientists, and Laura also has clinical experience as a practicing physical therapist,” she says. “Laura examines the underlying mechanisms of motor control in people with neurological dysfunction and how to use treatments to target those mechanisms, and Jacob studies the underlying mechanisms of pain and how the nervous system is altered in patients with pain. We didn’t have that unique combination applied to movement science within our program before.” 

 “Our approach isn’t just bench to beside,” Jacob notes. “It’s bench to bedside to bench, and so on.”