Silvia Blemker Aims to Correct a Profound Limitation in Musculoskeletal Modeling Research

According to the U.S. Census, women are nearly half of the U.S. workforce but only 27 percent of the workers in science and engineering jobs. This concerns Silvia Blemker, a professor in the University of Virginia's Department of Biomedical Engineering, who addressed the subject in this opinion piece in USA Today. Now Blemker, a biomechanics expert and recently elected Fellow of the American Society of Biomechanics, is addressing an even more fundamental issue—sex bias in the very data that scientists and engineers use to model musculoskeletal injury and disease.  

When it comes to muscle mechanics and muscle physiology, there are many known differences between men and women, said Blemker. But this knowledge has not found its way into the computer models that scientists use to study how muscle structure influences neuromuscular injury and disease. Instead, researchers' models are based on data from a male-only population, or at best the average of male and female measurements.

“It’s a profound limitation,” said Blemker. “The field needs a set of tools to rigorously examine sex as a biological variable in musculoskeletal modeling research.”

With the support of a multi-year research award from the National Institutes of Health, Blemker aims to correct this state of affairs. The project leverages novel tools developed by Blemker and her collaborators to rapidly image and model the musculoskeletal system. An end goal of the grant is to arrive at a sex-specific digital database of data and models that will be published open-access and available to the entire scientific community.

Her team's work is supported by NIH R01AR078396 "A quantitative framework to examine sex differences in musculoskeletal scaling and function." Learn more about this award on NIH Reporter HERE.

opens portrait of Professor Silvia Blemker

Silvia Salinas Blemker, PhD, is a professor in the departments of biomedical engineering and mechanical and aerospace engineering.