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Katrina Maluf, PT, PhD

Katrina Maluf

How did you get into research, why this area?

I got into research by accident.

I loved science and was self-driven towards it, especially as I worked in veterinarian offices when I was young. I think girls in particular come to love science through animals. I originally wanted to be a veterinarian, and then ended up going to Physical Therapy school be in the health science profession. I did some basic neuro science and physiology, and decided to I wanted to have interaction with humans as well as with science.

Once I finished my PT degree I went into a PhD program where I worked in clinically oriented lab with focus on tissue bio mechanics. During my post doc I got interested in motor control neurosystems which bridges the gap between systems, motor control and tissue biomechanics. I became especially interested in looking at how stress affects the motor system and the relationship of cardiovascular responses to stress.

Why is this important?

We know how the cardiovascular system responds to stress, but not how the motor system responds to stress, and neurons have outputs to both.

We also don’t know what causes the sustained motor stresses that create chronic issues.  Some people have a huge motor response, some don’t have any motor response but they have a cardiovascular response. I am working to understand what makes these two groups different, and why women tend to have a great motor response to stress while men have the cardiovascular reaction. Women have a lower cardiovascular response, but a huge muscle response thus much more prevalence to neck and musco skeletal pain.

And, while it appears that the motor response is disassociated from the cardiovascular response in women, those ages 20-45 have the largest motor responses to stress but smallest cardiovascular response. Women ages 45-50+ have a lower motor response to stress, but a higher cardiovascular response.

What are your hopes and dreams for your research?

There are a lot of questions to which we do not have the answers, especially in how to treat chronic pain. We want to intervene before musco skeletal pain becomes chronic and has a longer term impact on the heart especially for women who tend to be responders to motor stress.

What I want to do is find out what physiological factors underlie responders and non responders in a motor sense, and find bio markers based on those factors. We could then institute screening programs to identify bio markers that predict risk and teach people how to be aware of these and thus respond to stress. 

How could we report on your work in a way that could be understood and valued by the general public?

Community outreach through seminars and “Lunch & Learns” where we can present information in layman’s terms. Also presentations to companies and women’s groups to educate about the research and even recruit subjects. This is an especially great topic for businesses.