ACSM Annual Meeting Presentation Leads to Fruitful MD-PhD Collaboration

ACSM Annual Meeting Presentation Leads to Fruitful MD-PhD Collaboration

Joe Sherlock, ACSM Copywriter |  Nov. 30, 2023
MDPHD collab

If you’re on the fence about attending the 2024 ACSM Annual Meeting in Boston, consider the story of two ACSM fellows, Drs. Li Li and Jeffrey A. Ross. 

Li, a research professor in Georgia Southern University’s Department of Health Sciences and Kinesiology, and Ross, an associate professor at the Baylor College of Medicine’s Department of Surgery, Section of Vascular Surgery (as well as chief of podiatry in the Department of Surgery), met at last year’s ACSM Annual Meeting in Denver. Both attended the Biomechanics Interest Group meeting, at which Li was receiving his Career Achievement Award. 

According to Ross, “After hearing Dr. Li present on diabetic peripheral neuropathy and core body strength, I felt we had a common interest. I approached Dr. Li after the presentation and discussed my work with diabetics, peripheral neuropathy, and both surgical intervention (amputations) and gait, as well as topics of mutual interest.” 

These shared interests were so closely aligned that the pair soon decided to pursue a research collaboration, which has thus far culminated in a tutorial session titled “Postural and Gait Impairment among People with Diabetic Neuropathy and Potential Exercise as Intervention,” which was accepted for presentation at the 2024 ACSM Annual Meeting in Boston. 

In the following Q&A, the researchers discuss their partnership and work, the unique value of ACSM membership, and reasons why more M.D.s and Ph.D.s should consider teaming up. 

How did you get involved with ACSM? 

Li: I presented for the first time at ACSM’s 1996 annual meeting in Cincinnati as a doctoral student. 

Ross: I was president of the American Academy of Podiatric Sports Medicine and attended a meeting of various sports medicine associations. The executive director of ACSM, Jim Whitehead, introduced me to ACSM. I then presented at some early meetings, one along with Dr. Peter Gerbino on adolescent overuse sports injuries. I then became an ACSM fellow and served on my first committee, the Credentialing Committee. I have presented at meetings almost every year and now serve on the Medical Education Committee and Public Relations Committee. 

Why did you decide to collaborate? 

Li: We discovered that our research projects are complementary. Dr. Ross and his team have investigated the effects of clinical interventions for people suffering from neuropathy, whereas our studies focus on the consequences of physical activity interventions. We are both interested in exploring the mechanisms that lead to the relevant impairments in postural and gait stability among this population and the pathways for the most effective rehabilitation protocols. 

Ross: I have been working with Dr. Bijan Najafi (our director of research) and our research team here at Baylor, investigating the effects of clinical interventions for patients (diabetics and frail patients suffering from peripheral neuropathy), whereas Dr. Li’s team has been focusing on the consequences of physical activity interventions. After the Denver meeting, we had a Zoom conference with myself, Dr. Najafi and our team, and we both expressed an interest in exploring the mechanisms that lead to the relevant impairments in postural and gait stability among this population and the pathways for the most effective rehabilitation protocols. I even went further and discussed this possible study with the kinesiology department at the University of Rhode Island, where possible multi-site research could be conducted. 

What are you researching? 

Li: Our current focus is the adaptive interactions between the central and peripheral nervous systems with the progress of neuropathy. As the development of peripheral neuropathy, people’s foot sole tactile sensation deteriorates. The progress of foot sole insensitivity leads to debilitating postural and gait impairments. To compensate for this degenerative process, the central nervous system could potentially adjust the modulation of the proprioceptive sensation and use it to enhance our feedback system for postural control. 

Ross: Our research is looking at the effects of diabetic peripheral neuropathy and frailty in this population and the use of remote monitoring sensors to detect and predict pressure areas that might result in the formation of diabetic ulceration. With this data, we can use insoles, orthotic or shoe intervention to improve gait and to mitigate these potential pressure areas to prevent diabetic ulceration formation, particularly in patients who have undergone partial amputation of the foot. 

What has been your most interesting finding? 

Li: The textbook statement for losing tactile sensation due to peripheral neuropathy in humans is “irreversible” — we have evidence that proper interventions can reverse the loss of foot sole sensation, at least at the early stage of the disease.

Ross: Our research has shown that the use of remote monitoring sensors can monitor patients who suffer from diabetic peripheral neuropathy. We can also utilize computerized gait and pressure analysis to also help to predict pressure areas that might result in the formation of diabetic ulceration. We can use orthotic and shoe therapy to reduce pressure areas, improve gait, and allow these patients to be more active, ambulate, exercise and stay healthy — improve their quality of life. 

How has ACSM contributed to your career and work? 

Li: In addition to the rich academic exchange, ACSM is very important in my work and career development. I have participated in every ACSM annual meeting since 1996 as a member of the college. I was awarded ACSM fellowship in 2003, served as the chair of the Biomechanics Interest Group in 2008-9, and was the recipient of the 2023 Career Achievement Award from ACSM Biomechanics Interest Group. 

Ross: I have been a sports medicine podiatrist for over 40 years, and ACSM has allowed me to work with various sports teams; marathon runners; and amateur, collegiate, and professional athletes. Attending and presenting at the annual conferences, and serving on various committees, I have been able to share academic and clinic experiences that have benefited my patients. 


More recently, about three years ago the president and another representative of my alma mater, the University of Rhode Island, introduced me to the dean of the College of Health Sciences, Dr. Gary Liguori (now provost at the University of West Florida), and we realized we were both ACSM fellows. Dr. Ligouri invited me to volunteer and serve on the advisory committee for Rhode Island’s College of Health Sciences. In addition, he invited me to lecture the students in the Department of Kinesiology and to advise the Pre-Med Society. I likewise invited Dr. Ligouri and the Rhode Island faculty to meet with Dr. Bijan Najafi here at Baylor to collaborate on mutual research studies. 

Further, Rhode Island’s interim dean, Dr. Deborah Riebe, FACSM, and I met in Denver and discussed the meeting with Dr. Li and possible research on diabetic peripheral neuropathy and improving gait that could be conducted with her students. Dr. Riebe has continued to invite me to present to the students in the Department of Kinesiology, where I combine clinical experiences with scientific biomechanics. It was that relationship with ACSM that lead to these introductions and these future relationships. That was another reason for wanting to meet with Dr. Li and create a new relationship. 

What advice do you have for M.D.s and Ph.D.s interested in interdisciplinary collaboration? 

Li: Get involved. ACSM provides excellent opportunities for learning about the most up-to-date scientific discoveries, exploring potential research ideas, and networking with scientists from diverse disciplines for future collaborations. Get involved beyond presentations and passive learning — actively involved in the organization — and get the most out of what the college can offer. 

Ross: At a recent ACSM Medical Education Committee Zoom meeting with my colleagues, I discussed the importance of collaboration between clinical M.D.s and Ph.D.s. I elaborated on the meeting with Dr. Li and our research study, an upcoming presentation at the ACSM Annual Meeting in Boston. I feel that combining the clinical experiences of our patients with scientific research studies is a natural fit, and that we should foster these relationships to forge ahead with new findings. This can benefit both our patients and the academic institutions. I encourage my colleagues to become involved with ACSM and all that it offers. You never know who you might meet! 

If you’re interested in attending Dr. Li and Dr. Ross’s presentation, make sure to register for the 2024 ACSM Annual Meeting in Boston, May 28-31.