David Russ to fill new research leadership role at USF Health physical therapy school

David Russ, PT, PhD, has been appointed assistant school director for research for the USF Health Morsani College of Medicine’s School of Physical Therapy and Rehabilitation Sciences (SPT&RS). The position was created to help strengthen the school’s research profile now that innovative curriculum changes and clinical practice improvements continue to promote a learning environment where faculty, staff and students can excel.

Dr. Russ is currently an associate professor of physical therapy and directs the Laboratory for Integrative Muscle Biology at Ohio University in Athens, OH.  He was selected following a national search and will arrive at USF Health in early January.

“His diverse academic and practical experience applying exercise and physical activity to various models of disease and mobility make Dr. Russ an exceptional fit for this new leadership position. He will help us take our school’s research enterprise to the next level,” said Laura Lee (Dolly) Swisher, PhD, PT, director of SPT&RS and associate dean of the Morsani College of Medicine. “He is well suited to fostering more robust collaborations across USF Health, including departments and centers bridging basic and applied sciences.”

David Russ, PT, PhD

Dr. Russ said he was attracted to the breadth and depth of resources and expertise at USF Health and USF that can be tapped to grow physical therapy research across disciplines. SPT&RS has built a robust interdisciplinary musculoskeletal and prosthetics research program, incorporating the military and veterans.  Faculty and students work with others in the USF College of Engineering as well as in USF Health Neurology and USF’s Exercise Science Program for some projects involving SPT&RS Human Functional Performance Laboratory.

“USF is a forward-thinking university that continues to raise its research reputation,” Dr. Russ said. “I look forward to helping advance physical therapy’s research profile across USF Health and campus-wide, and also expanding grant applications and publications at the national level.”

While facilitating the overall growth and quality of SPT&RS research, Dr. Russ will also maintain his own research program, which encompasses the study of skeletal muscle function in both human and preclinical models. In particular, he focuses on muscle strength and fatigue in conditions ranging from old age to immobility to low back pain. He has investigated what factors besides muscle size, such as intra-muscular processes and nerve function, contribute to muscle strength or power.

The medical and scientific communities increasingly appreciate that muscle dysfunction (encompassing muscle weakness, poor muscle coordination, etc.) contributes to impairment in disease processes such as cancer, kidney disease and neurological disorders, Dr. Russ said.  “We know that old muscles are not the same as young muscles, so they should not be treated the same – including the way they are exercised. The exercises recommended for older adults may need to be different from those focusing primarily on building muscle mass and maximum performance.”

Dr. Russ will bring to USF Health a two-year National Institutes of Health grant to determine whether trimetazidine, a drug used to treat angina, enhances aged skeletal muscle contraction and quality. The preclinical study will use the drug to help identify intramuscular mechanisms affecting muscle strength, rather than muscle mass.

Dr. Russ received a PhD degree in biomechanics and movement sciences (applied physiology track) from the University of Delaware and completed postdoctoral training in exercise physiology at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst. His master’s degree in physical therapy is also from the University of Delaware. Before joining Ohio University in 2013, he was an assistant professor at the University of Maryland’s Department of Physical Therapy.  He has practiced in hospital and outpatient settings, and completed an American Physical Therapy Association residency in Sports Physical Therapy.

Dr. Russ has authored more than 50 peer-reviewed publications, including several book chapters.  He has served on review panels for the NIH and Department of Defense and is a longstanding editorial board member for the journal Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise.