Chloe Baratta, Ph.D. candidate in the Nichols lab, received a National Institutes of Health (NIH) Ruth L. Kirschstein National Research Service Award (NRSA) Individual Predoctoral Fellowship (Parent F31) for her project titled “Integrating Musculoskeletal and Data-Driven Modeling to Understand the Biomechanical Sequelae of Syndesmotic Repair”.

The prestigious fellowship covers full tuition, stipend, and educational expenses. Baratta’s mentors on the project are Drs. Jennifer Nichols and Daniel Ferris. The overall aim of this study is to improve our understanding of how surgical repair of the ankle syndesmosis affects the biomechanics of the entire body.

Humans comprise one of only two orders in the Animal Kingdom with specialized, fully-mobile fibula bones. Fibular motion through the ankle syndesmosis is a critical component of human movement, as it provides shock absorption and stabilization throughout the lower limb. However, this motion is disrupted in injuries like high ankle sprains and their treatment, which involves rigidly fixating the fibula to the tibia, and fails to replicate the natural joint mechanics of the syndesmosis. Our work proposes that this disconnect could explain poor outcomes following syndesmotic repair; patients struggle with pain, re-injury, and osteoarthritis. Our central hypothesis posits that syndesmotic repair disrupts the biomechanics of the entire lower limb from the hip to the foot. We will combine innovative human subjects experiments, novel musculoskeletal models, and machine learning leveraging UF’s supercomputing technology to investigate the biomechanistic implications of syndesmotic repair in vivo. In the short-term, the proposed work will improve our understanding of the biomechanical and functional implications of fibular fixation during syndesmotic repair. In the long-term, the proposed work will provide foundational evidence to advance the paradigms of syndesmotic injury diagnosis, repair, and rehabilitation.