Research Communications

Postdoc profiles: M.J. Conaway uses math models to understand muscle weakness 

Note: In honor of National Postdoc Appreciation Week, Sept. 17-21, we're spotlighting postdoctoral fellows on the Ohio University campus. A postdoctoral scholar ("postdoc") is an individual holding a doctoral degree who is engaged in a temporary period of mentored research and/or scholarly training for the purpose of acquiring the professional skills needed to pursue a career path of his or her choosing.

By Jessica Salerno
Sept. 17, 2012

Biomedical engineer M.J. (Matt) Conaway and Ohio University physiologist Brian Clark were awarded a grant from the National Institutes of Health last year that allows the researchers to combine their areas of expertise to study muscle weakness.

The award, which funded a postdoctoral position in the Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine for Conaway, promotes diversity in health-related research. Conaway has mixed quadriplegic spastic athetoid cerebral palsy, which means he is unable to walk, has minimal use of his hands, and communicates primarily through a computer, by typing with a mouth stick. Conaway collaborates with Clark remotely from his home in Chicago.

“I was very fortunate to get NIH to entirely fund the position,” said Conaway, who received his doctorate in biomedical engineering from the University of Iowa in 2010.

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M.J. Matt Conaway. Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine.

The focus of Conaway’s work is mathematical modeling of immobilized muscle.

“The goal is to translate that into a model of aging muscle, so that novel preventive and rehabilitative protocols can be developed,” he explained.

He also is analyzing the paraspinal EMG signal from chronic low back pain patients, and he’s working to identify patterns of muscle activation in chronic low back pain before and after spinal manipulation.

Conaway enjoys working with Clark, who is director of the university’s Ohio Musculoskeletal and Neurological Institute.

“Given that he is a physiologist and I am a biomedical engineer, he and I have a great deal to teach each other,” he said.

Conaway adds that as the son of osteopathic physician, he always has wanted to work in the field of osteopathic medicine.

He notes that postdocs can benefit universities in a variety of ways, from research and administrative support to mentoring students.

“They bring fresh perspectives into various research enterprises,” he said. “This is especially the case for those who have earned the Ph.D. elsewhere.”

So far, Conaway says he has obtained interesting results in comparing the performance of two different models of muscle force in immobilized muscle. He has contributed to a grant proposal and peer review of various journal articles, as well as a published review on aging and muscle quality. He also would like to finalize a wavelet analysis protocol for his low back pain work and will possibly submit a grant based on that work.

What’s next for Conaway? He’s looking at career paths such as scientific administration, consulting and scientific staff support, among other options.