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UCI Receives $15M Grant to Study Muscle Dynamics

There’s a big knowledge gap when it comes to understanding how muscles control movement in daily life, according to Monica Daley.

So, the University of California, Irvine professor told the Business Journal that gaining a better understanding of muscle dynamics could help improve treatments for neuromuscular disorders and the rehabilitation of individuals.

Daley, director of UCI’s Center for Integrative Movement Sciences, is leading research on movement biomechanics, with the support of a recent $15 million grant from the National Science Foundation.

The six-year funding will create a network of experts from 21 institutions across the country, including UCI, for an interdisciplinary approach to muscle dynamics research under the new Integrative Movement Sciences Institute (IMSI).

Part of the grant will also go toward creating a research training program for undergraduate and graduate students set to begin this summer.

Research Network

IMSI’s network of researchers spans multiple disciplines within the field of muscle dynamics, ranging from neuroscience to engineering.

The network includes researchers at different universities around the country, such as Northern Arizona University, Colorado School of Mines and Georgia Institute of Technology.

In one IMSI study, muscle physiologists and scientists specializing in X-ray diffraction are collaborating at the Argonne National Laboratory in Illinois.

They’re using X-ray beams to image a hawk moth while in-flight to better understand mechanisms of muscle contraction, Daley said.

This type of research has potential applications in the improvement of mobility assistance devices for neuromuscular disorders like cerebral palsy.

One of the largest issues with exoskeletons and prosthetic devices is that they only provide passive support without enhancing movement performance, Daley said.

“If you provide assistance, you need to do it in a way that doesn’t decrease strength or mobility over time” she said.

Summer Institute

As part of the $15 million National Science Foundation grant, IMSI is also launching a institute this July to train a new generation of scientists.

“One of the great things about this grant is that it has a focus not just on research, but also on education and training,” Daley said.

The eight-week long program will train more than 450 undergraduate, graduate and postdoctoral students over the next six years.

Trainees, overseen by IMSI’s network of mentors, will conduct a research project relating to movement sciences.

Daley said the application window closed last month and that they received over 75 applications. With the grant, they expect to fund somewhere between 20 and 40 trainees for the upcoming summer.

IMSI is also working with other partners, including a private donor to secure additional funding for the program, according to Daley.

IMSI started as a project between Daley and her collaborators during the pandemic, through virtual brainstorming sessions, she said.

Currently, IMSI is reviewing applications and organizing activities for this year’s cohort.

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