Biomedical engineering faculty member joins NIH rehabilitation engineering consortium

Jennifer Puetzer, Ph.D
Jennifer Puetzer, Ph.D., assistant professor in the Department of Biomedical Engineering

Jennifer Puetzer, Ph.D., assistant professor in the Department of Biomedical Engineering at VCU College of Engineering, has been accepted as a National Institutes of Health (NIH) Interdisciplinary Rehabilitation Engineering Career Development Program (IREK12) scholar.

Puetzer, whose research focus is musculoskeletal tissue engineering, is investigating methods to improve tendon and ligament healing using engineered tissues and mechanical stimulation. She holds an affiliate appointment in the Department of Orthopaedic Surgery at the VCU School of Medicine.

Funded with a grant from the NIH, the IREK12 program was created by a consortium of nine leading institutions whose engineering and physical therapy programs provide exposure to experimental and clinical practice. It is led by training directors at Northwestern University, the University of California at Irvine, the Medical University of South Carolina, the University of Delaware and the Shirley Ryan AbilityLab.

The program centers on Movement and Rehabilitation Sciences research, which spans many disciplines including engineering, quantitative neuroscience and physiology and clinical sciences.

Along with mentorship from the consortium, Puetzer will have an engineering mentor and a clinical mentor at VCU to provide guidance in developing translational research at the intersection of these disciplines. Her engineering mentor is Henry J. Donahue, Ph.D., the Alice T. and William H. Goodwin, Jr. Professor and chair of the Department of Biomedical Engineering and co-director of the VCU Institute for Engineering and Medicine. Her clinical mentor is Peter Pidcoe, D.P.T., Ph.D., a professor and assistant chair in the Department of Physical Therapy in the College of Health Professions. Pidcoe also holds an appointment in the Department of Biomedical Engineering.

Puetzer’s lab is investigating how mechanical forces guide cells to create the underlying structure of tendons and ligaments. With a clearer understanding of that process, these forces can be better used in physical therapy to enhance healing.

“We are excited that Dr. Puetzer will have the opportunity to develop skills in translational research through this innovative interdisciplinary program. She is already recognized for her studies on basic mechanisms that are involved in tendon and ligament mechanics and regenerative medicine approaches to treating injuries to these tissues. With the mentorship provided by the IREK12 program, she will develop valuable skills for translating this knowledge into technologies that can be used clinically,” said Barbara D. Boyan, Ph.D., the Alice T. and William H. Goodwin, Jr. Dean of the VCU College of Engineering.

As a trained engineer and basic scientist, Puetzer said she was eager to gain more clinical training. “We’re interested in taking our basic science and bringing that to physical therapy to help with regeneration and repair of torn ligaments and tendons.”