A Conversation With Matthew Major, PhD

In this issue, O&P News poses five questions to Matthew Major, PhD. Major is an assistant professor in the Department of Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine and a research health scientist with the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA)’s Jesse Brown VA Medical Center. He received his doctorate in biomedical engineering from the University of Salford in the United Kingdom, and bachelor’s and master’s degrees in mechanical engineering from the University of Illinois at Urbana. His research focuses on sensory-motor mechanisms underlying postural control and systematic explorations to define relationships between O&P device characteristics and user performance. Major serves on the Editorial Board for the Journal of Prosthetics and Orthotics, and the Research Committee of the Orthotic and Prosthetic Education and Research Foundation.

O&P News: What are your hobbies outside of work?

Major: As the chair of a social justice committee, I volunteer whatever time I can to supporting and coordinating activities within Chicago that address inequality issues ranging from education to health care. I consider myself an avid — albeit amateur — runner as well, and this provides a convenient vehicle to raise funds for social action efforts while limiting the amount of inquiries I receive questioning why someone would run for so long without a purpose (e.g., being chased by a lion). I recently ran the Chicago Marathon and used this opportunity to raise funds for an organization that provides employment and housing for homeless veterans in Chicago. Although the field of rehabilitation science allows me to experience the direct impact of my research, it is equally rewarding to work with grassroots efforts committed to addressing local issues. With any residual time, I enjoy singing in a chamber choir and generating horrendous noises from my guitar.

O&P News: Who has had the greatest influence on your career?

Major: Although it may be expected to name someone from within my own specialized research arena, my greatest career influence actually comes from modern “celebrity scientists,” particularly Carl Sagan, Michio Kaku, Brian Cox, Neil deGrasse Tyson, Stephen Hawking and Richard Feynman. As I name these individuals, it occurs to me that I should probably have been a theoretical physicist. Nonetheless, I draw a great amount of inspiration for my own work from the genuine passion for research and discovery exhibited by these scientists. I admire how talented they were and are in effectively communicating the wonders of humanity and reality to a wider public audience for arousing our inherent curiosity and desire to understand the questions of “why” and “how.” Although I might never be the frontman of science, I am honored to be able to contribute to the discussion on O&P rehabilitation in an effort to help advance the profession through improving clinical practice for ultimately enhancing patient quality of life.

O&P News: Which developments in O&P most interest you right now? Why?

Major: The recent development in O&P that has captured my interest is the commercial availability and expanding clinical use of prosthetic components that generate power, specifically powered prosthetic feet. Such technology has already demonstrated tremendous potential for improving user function, and I look forward to the continued development and adoption of these components. Improvements in robustness and miniaturization of sensors, batteries and power generation components now allow researchers and manufacturers the flexibility to develop commercially viable devices that effectively replace lost physiological function due to limb loss.

As research and clinical practice continues to build a case for how these devices exceed biomechanical performance of commonly-prescribed passive components and enhance patient outcomes, I am excited by how this will further the value of O&P service and cement its importance as an allied health profession.


O&P News: What advice would you offer to O&P students today?

Major: Students of O&P are graduating at an exciting time of rapid transformation in the field, in terms of practice, policy and technology. My primary advice for these graduates would be to open themselves to learning as much as possible regarding trends in practice and constantly updating their knowledge on technological advancements. As O&P devices become more sophisticated and better customized to the patient, clinicians will need to be aware of state-of-the-art developments in device and therapeutic interventions to help patients maximize their rehabilitation potential. Students have a tremendous opportunity right now to lead this progressive evolution and significantly elevate the standard of the O&P profession.

O&P News: What is up next for you?

Major: As my research is focused on improving our fundamental understanding of the relationships between O&P device function and patient outcomes, I recognize that we need to keep working hard to constantly improve the quality of evidence-based practice. My plans now are to continue on this voyage of discovery and explore all opportunities to excite students and practicing clinicians about the opportunity to shape the evolution of our profession. More specific to my research, I am embarking on a multi-year project to define the sensory-motor mechanisms that underlie postural control in persons who use upper and lower limb prostheses in an effort to enhance prosthetic and therapeutic intervention. Additionally, I am working with colleagues at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to develop novel prosthetic foot and knee components that maximize patient mobility through user-centered designs that are accessible to a wide population of persons with limb loss.

Disclosure: Major reports no relevant financial disclosures.

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