Samuel Ward, PT, PhD

Categories: Researchers

Instilling Confidence in Emerging Researchers

Dr. Samuel Ward, PT, PhD, associate professor in the departments of Radiology, Orthopaedic Surgery and Bioengineering at the University of California, San Diego (UCSD) and new Chair of the Foundation’s Scientific Review Committee (SRC), began his own research career with Foundation funding. Dr. Ward started his undergraduate education within an engineering program but soon realized that he wanted to pursue a degree in physical therapy at California State University Long Beach. During his studies, he became involved in physical therapy research and quickly realized that he would ultimately want to obtain a PhD. Dr. Ward practiced as a clinician for a few years before returning to graduate school at the University of Southern California to pursue a PhD in Biokinesiology. At this time, Ward became familiar with the Foundation and the post-professional doctoral scholarship opportunities it provides. He applied for and received funding through the Foundation’s Promotion of Doctoral Studies (PODS) program, earning a PODS I scholarship in 2001 and a PODS II scholarship in 2002.

Dr. Ward’s involvement with the Foundation is part of a long standing history between members of the California Chapter of APTA and the Foundation for Physical Therapy. Over 40 California Chapter members, of whom Ward is one, have received a combined total of over $2 million from the Foundation, making it the top funded state in the United States. He is also one of six researchers from California to have served on the SRC, the highest number from any state.

For Dr. Ward, his Foundation funding helped to kick start his career as a young investigator. “When you get your first grant, it gives you a little bit of confidence,” he says. “You have to work your way up the ladder in order to land at an NIH grant, and the Foundation is an excellent platform for that process.”

Dr. Ward works with a patient in his lab in San Diego.

Dr. Ward is a perfect example of Foundation funding leading to bigger opportunities and earning additional funding form larger agencies. He is currently working on a variety of research projects funded by major institutions such as the National Institutes of Health and the Department of Defense. One exciting project that he is actively involved with as Principal Investigator is entitled “Muscle Structure, Toxin Dose, and Exercise Affect Botulinum Toxin Efficiency,” a five year R01 study funded by NIH. The aim of this study is to determine both the short and long term effects of botulinum toxin on skeletal muscle structure and function. With the majority of the study complete, Ward and his team are finding that the consequences of this type of intervention are profound and will have great clinical implications.

Another interesting study that Dr. Ward and his team are currently working on examines the effect of heavy load carriage on the lumbar spine during operational tasks. This Department of Defense-funded study looks at military personnel and the effect of carrying heavy loads on their spines. This work is being translated into non-military populations as they use specialized MRI techniques to see exactly what happens to the spine when the lumbar spine patients are put in positions that are frequently used in the clinical setting.

Dr. Ward is also part of a team funded by a prestigious NIH R24 grant entitled “Medical Rehabilitation Research Infrastructure Program in Muscle (MRRPM).” This infrastructure program is made up of 7 separate centers across the county, each providing education, pilot funding, equipment and scientific support to rehabilitation investigators. Each center focuses on a different topic, with the center that Dr. Ward is associated with being the National Skeletal Muscle Research Center. Lori Tuttle, PT, MPT, PhD, four time Foundation PODS recipient, is also working within this center as a postdoctoral fellow.

As a member and current Chair of the Foundation’s Scientific Review Committee, Dr. Ward takes pride in working with the rest of the committee to choose the most qualified candidates for Foundation scholarships, fellowships, and research grants. He believes that the support received from the Foundation gives young researchers an important sense of confidence early on in their career. This was clearly the sense for Ward, as he continued on to receive many other grants and become a noted expert in his field.

As a current faculty member of three separate departments at UCSD, Dr. Ward is a major advocate of exploring different areas of research and studying a variety of topics. He believes that it is important for physical therapist researchers to pursue excellence in a related discipline as well. He, himself, has expertise in orthopaedics, radiology, and bioengineering to complement his proficiency within physical therapy. “Don’t be limited by your tools,” he suggests to young emerging researchers. “In order to push our field forward, you need to have an impact on the broader fields of medicine, engineering, etc.” he notes.

The Foundation is proud to have played a part in Dr. Ward’s accomplishments by providing not only the financial assistance, but also the belief in his future success. He looks forward to continuing his work on the SRC – providing guidance through reviewing applications submitted by emerging investigators like he was not so long ago. And perhaps instilling that same confidence he received just at the right time.