Alumni Spotlight: Luther Gill
As a physical therapist, it was appealing to learn in a rich translational research environment with other rehabilitation professionals (PT, OT, SLP etc.). While pursuing a Ph.D. is a daunting and at times intimidating process, being surrounded by and learning with other clinicians provided some solace during the process. We were continually exposed to multidisciplinary research performed across the Health Science Center through the Rehabilitation Research Science Seminars, the Neuro-Noons forums held during the summer months and at the Annual Neuromuscular Plasticity Symposium. As one of several NIH T-32 National Research Service Award recipients, we were provided a unique opportunity to present our work at the President’s House on the evenings prior to the Annual Neuromuscular Plasticity Symposium. On these occasions, we were able to share our work with national and internationally renowned researchers (Reggie Edgerton Ph.D., Gary Seick Ph.D., Randolph Nudo Ph.D., Sue Bodine Ph.D., and Richard Lieber Ph.D.). My appreciation of these experiences provided by the program has only grown over time since I have a more comprehensive understanding of the research landscape, the national position of the department and the program as a whole.
We were trained by a cadre of fully funded NIH funded investigators. During my time as a student, program faculty were directly involved with several ongoing multi-site rehabilitation related clinical trials (LEAPS, EXCITE). In my opinion, this contributed to the salience of the educational content provided by these faculty members. The foundation for my current trajectory as a faculty member is directly related to the research training I received as a student in the Rehabilitation Science Program and I do not believe I would have had the same path without these experiences.
What types of jobs or activities have you engaged in since graduation? And how does the training in the RSD program contribute to those activities?
After graduation, I completed a postdoctoral fellowship in Neuromuscular Physiology in the Cell and Regenerative Physiology lab with Dr. Gary Sieck at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. Dr. Sieck is a world expert in the area of muscle physiology and neuromotor control. My postdoctoral work focused on exploring breathing behavior, diaphragm plasticity, neural control of the diaphragm, and phrenic motoneuron plasticity in several pre-clinical animal models. This work was directly related with the work performed in the laboratory of my Ph.D. advisor Dr. David Fuller. Again, as a physical therapist, I had no prior experience with basic science or translational research. My experience in Dr. Fuller’s lab prepared me to function well in this environment.
I joined the faculty as an Assistant Professor at the LSU Health Science Center New Orleans in July 2017. I was recently awarded a Roadmap Scholar Award from the Louisiana Clinical and Translational Science Center which provides 75% salary support and mentored career development. My current work under this award will focus on identifying reliable biomarkers associated with skeletal muscle mitochondrial dysfunction in an established pre-clinical model. Undoubtedly, my training in the Rehabilitation Science Program has had a significant impact on my career trajectory and I feel fortunate to have had the opportunity to learn in such a unique research/learning environment.