UK receives $4.2 million grant to study injury prevention in U.S. Special Forces

The University of Kentucky campus
The University of Kentucky campus

The University of Kentucky's College of Health Sciences has received a $4.2 million grant from the U.S. Department of Defense to research injury prevention in U.S. Special Forces.

The grant will work in concert with the new UK Sports Science Research Institute, which will be housed in Health Sciences.

The institute will be funded with $3 million, most of which will come from UK HealthCare with some support from UK Athletics.

The award allows Scott M. Lephart, dean of Health Sciences, to continue to lead one of the six U.S. Special Forces research projects that he launched during his 27-year tenure at the University of Pittsburgh.

"The award permits our crucial work with Special Forces to continue and aligns with the long-term aims of the project under the newly established" Sports Science Research Institute, said Lephart, who also holds the endowed chair of orthopedic research at UK. "This is the beginning of a reinvigorated research enterprise at the UK College of Health Sciences, as well as the addition of a vital asset to the research efforts of UK HealthCare and the university."

The planned 6,000-square-foot sports science institute is to be a multidisciplinary scientific center focused on contemporary approaches to prevention and treatment of sports injuries and concussions, performance optimization, musculoskeletal health and rehabilitation, metabolism, and neuro-cognition. The institute is scheduled for completion next summer on the UK campus.

Eight new faculty members will join UK to work with the institute. Two are based in Lexington: institute director John Abt and laboratory manager Nicholas Heebner. Other faculty members, including Josh Winters and Scott Royer, will operate the Marine Corps Special Operation Command lab at Camp Lejeune in Jacksonville, N.C.

The Special Operation Command is the Marine Corps' arm of U.S. Special Forces.

Musculoskeletal injuries are common during the demanding training and during combat. The short- and long-term effects of such injuries include loss of active duty time, financial impacts and the adverse effects on the overall health of military personnel. The aim of the research is to develop strategies for injury prevention and performance optimization, similar to those used with athletes, but adapted to the specialized needs of military personnel.

"These Marines are training to become small teams of elite warriors expected to be at peak performance in extremely dangerous and unpredictable situations," Lephart said. "There is absolutely no room for sustaining a preventable injury. That's why our work is so mission-critical for the Special Forces."

The institute staff will conduct a variety of field studies focused on the physical demands on special forces Marines during the nine-month course. For example, institute researchers will identify common injury patterns among special forces Marines and develop clinical trials to test training programs targeted at injury prevention.

The institute will also help provide strategies on injury prevention, human performance, sports nutrition and overall wellness to recreational and competitive youth, high school, collegiate, professional, and senior athletes, coaches, parents, and other health-care providers, UK officials said.