2018 IDEA Award Winner Q&A: Stephan Bodkin


Every year, the Curry School of Education awards grant funding to select students as part of the Curry Innovative, Developmental, Exploratory Awards (IDEA) Competition. Funded through Curry’s Research and Development Fund, this grant helps students advance both their careers and the field of education through the development of innovative research. This article is a part of a series that explores the winning 2018 IDEA projects and their potential impact on education.

Program: Sports Medicine/Athletic Training
Project: Implementation of Visuomotor Rehabilitation for Improving Neurophysiological Deficits in Patients Following ACL Reconstruction

Can you give me a brief overview of what this project is about? 

The project aims to intervene on neurological deficits seen following Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL) injury and reconstruction. Following surgery of the ACL, we see the body essentially “turn off” the muscles surrounding the knee as a protective strategy. This protective mechanism may actually be harmful, not allowing strengthening of these muscles during rehabilitation. Though most clinically observed acutely following surgery, this is hypothesized to have chronic impact on the neuromuscular system.

Lasting changes have been observed within this patient population regarding their primary motor cortex, or the part of the brain that originates the majority of descending motor commands. The project aims to take advantage of known visuo-motor neuron loops in the brain to prevent or overcome these adaptations observed at the time these individuals are returning to physical activity.

Why are you passionate about this area of research?

Physical inactivity is one of the highest risk behaviors leading to the development of chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes and obesity. Active individuals unfortunately undergo injuries, which has been found to be a leading cause for reduced activity levels. Within our lab, we don’t believe that individuals should be limited in their desired physical activity because of previous injuries.

ACL injuries are not only common among competitive athletes, but also have a lasting impact, with only about 50% of individuals returning to their previous levels of sport. Individuals following ACL reconstruction are also at a greater risk for re-injury and early development of osteoarthritis. As athletic trainers, one of our main goals is to safely and successfully return individuals to their desired level of activity following injury.

Where did the idea for this particular project come from? 

Our lab has found sub-optimal outcomes within the ACL-reconstructed individual ranging from decreased activity to early development of osteoarthritis. To improve these outcomes, we have aimed to find the earliest point of intervention to possibly prevent the decline of individual muscular function.

The faculty and previous students of the Exercise and Sport Injury Lab (EaSIL) have done an amazing job in assessing muscular function. Data from our lab continue to support the idea that neurological impairments may largely be impacting muscular outcomes. To date, there are no established interventions to overcome chronic neurophysiological adaptations observed within this population. We hope to provide clinically applicable results to help individuals improve following ACL-Reconstruction.

How did you decide to submit a proposal to the Curry IDEA competition? 

My advisors and I have always had a plan to design an intervention study during my time here as a doctoral student. The timing was right to apply for financial support for the proposed study.

Additionally, fellow classmates within our lab have been able to accomplish extraordinary projects with the help of the Curry IDEA grant. Seeing these studies come to fruition with the help of the IDEA grant made it an easy decision to submit a proposal.

What other people and organizations will be involved? 

This project will include many individuals within EaSIL and the Department of Orthopaedic Surgery at the University of Virginia. The established relationship between our lab and Orthopaedic Surgery has been beneficial for both parties, allowing us to collect data to further progress our knowledge on this patient population, while providing objective data to surgeons and physicians that they may not have had otherwise.

What goals do you have for this project?

The goal of this project is to better understand neural adaptations in individuals following ACL-Reconstruction and to explore interventions to address them. Our advisors say that a measure of a well-designed research study is one that adds to current knowledge and promotes further research questions, no matter if the hypothesis is supported or rejected. Hopefully, with the help of the Curry IDEA grant, this will be one of those projects.

How will the IDEA grant help you achieve those goals?

The Curry IDEA competition has connected me to faculty members for mentorship for the duration of the study and has provided structure for it to be completed within my time at UVA. The IDEA grant will allow the lab to purchase expendable supplies to carry out the study as well as assist in conference travel to share the research.