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Putting the Best Foot Forward: H&K Professor Helps Secure Two Multi-Million Dollar Grants For Biomechanics Research

Kota Takahashi, PhD, is new to the U—he only started his position as assistant professor with the Department of Health and Kinesiology in August. But he’s already helped secure two R01 grants totaling over $5 million that bring more funding and prestige to the College.

Two of Takahashi’s specialties are foot and ankle biomechanics and gait analysis, and he’s leveraged that expertise to help secure funding from the National Institute of Health for two different studies. Both are five-year grants: one in collaboration with Jason Franz, PhD at UNC Chapel Hill for $2,702,893, and the other in collaboration with Song-Young Park, PhD, at the University of Nebraska at Omaha for $2,415,471.  

Kota Takahashi

“When the scores came out in February, we had a pretty good idea that at least one of the grants would be funded,” he said. “It’s been nonstop from February to a few weeks ago to see if this is really going to happen.”

The first study, “A framework for feasible translation to enhance foot and ankle function in aging and mobility,” will use tools like ultrasound imaging and high-speed motion capture techniques to compare the muscular function between 50 older and 50 younger adults.

“We’re trying to enhance the function of the elderly population with footwear, like carbon fiber insoles that we can slide under existing shoes,” he said. “One of the things we want to find is if these simple interventions can enhance their ability to walk.”

Studies are already underway at UNC Chapel Hill with the principal investigator Franz—Takahashi and his Utah colleagues will start their hands-on research once laboratory space is complete. They plan to base their investigations out of the Craig Neilsen Rehab Hospital, as well as the new HPER Research Facility.

Takahashi is the principal investigator on the second study, “Thermoregulation in individuals with a leg amputation, mechanics and vascular physiology factors to understand risk for tissue complication.” He and his Nebraska colleague, Park, will research how the skin can regulate temperature to prevent tissue breakdown due to excessive heat. The study will focus on individuals with an amputation below the knee and how to better protect the remaining structures, like the opposite foot.

“If we can identify people who are at high risk for developing skin damage and if we can prevent a second amputation, that will be a great goal,” he said. “And if we can understand what causes the skin temperature to increase excessively, then hopefully we can intervene.”

One of the interventions that Takahashi is testing is a prosthetic component called a shock-absorbing pylon that incorporates squishy elements. He said that a normal prosthetic has a very rigid pylon, so the goal is that the additional absorption will reduce some of the load that soft tissue bears after amputation. Ideally, it will help minimize some of the excess heat that leads to dangerously high skin temperatures and tissue breakdown.

It might sound like all work and no play, but Takahashi has always been fascinated by the human body, and he’s also a lover of sports and science fiction. Biomechanics combines his interests in human anatomy, physiology and technology, and he’s using his passion to help take the department to the next level.

“I’m starting brand new here and everything is moving at such a rapid pace,” he said. “I’m excited because securing these grants allow us to hire more talented people, like students and post-docs, to our successful department.”



By Sarah Shebek