Crites Battié earns lifetime honour for research

Michele Crites Battié has always been quite comfortable working behind the scenes – even as the spotlight recently turned to the Physical Therapy professor when she was presented with the 2019 ORS PSRS Lifetime Research Achievement Award.

“My research group has been fortunate over the years in having our work recognized a number of times by prestigious international research awards,” said the Western Research Chair in Musculoskeletal Exercise, Mobility and Health. “While it has been gratifying that our work has contributed meaningfully to current knowledge of degenerative conditions affecting the low back, I had no expectation of being recognized personally for my contributions. It was a very nice surprise.”

Created in 2013, the Orthopaedic Research Society / Philadelphia Spine Research Society award honors an investigator who has established him/herself with sustained and long-lasting contributions in the area of spine research. The award is presented biannually at the groups’ International Research Symposium in Philadelphia.

Crites Battié began her academic and research career with the Department of Orthopaedics at the University of Washington (Seattle) before being recruited by the University of Alberta as professor and chair of the Department of Physical Therapy, where she held a Tier 1 Canada Research Chair (CRC) in Common Spinal Disorders.

In 2017, she joined Western and its Bone and Joint Institute to continue her clinical and research interests focus on low back pain, spinal stenosis and other degenerative conditions of the lumbar spine. Her work has ranged from genetic studies of disc degeneration to investigations of factors influencing back pain related disability in the workplace.

Her work has been recognized with a number of international research awards, including ones from the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons/ORS, the International Society for the Study of the Lumbar Spine and a North American Spine Society Best Paper Award, among others.

Crites Battié’s nominators highlighted how her work “has substantially shifted understanding of the causes of low back pain and disc degeneration away from the previously prevailing injury/overuse model.”

Over recent years, Crites Battié has been spearheading an international initiative she hopes will have far-reaching clinical, research and policy implications with respect to creating a common language and core measures around degenerative spinal conditions.

Back pain may be a prevalent problem, but it’s a difficult target. Developing efficient and effective treatments means understanding the underlying pathology. That exploration has taken Crites Battié in unplanned directions. But it is these “bends in the road” that have led to her most novel, important findings.

“I have never invested heavily in any particular methodology, which can be a blessing or a curse. But that has allowed me to shift directions and methodologies quickly when a new direction looks promising,” she said.

“What has been critical to the success of this approach, however, is collaboration. I have had wonderful, top-notch collaborators from a wide range of fields, such as behavioral psychology, molecular biology and genetics, imaging, epidemiology and biostatistics, bioengineering, orthopaedics, and more. It was the collaborative opportunities I saw with the Bone and Joint Institute that drew me to Western two years ago.”

Founded in 2004, PSRS was set up to bring together members of the Greater Philadelphia community of basic scientists, bioengineers and spine surgeons concerned with studies of the intervertebral disc and the associated spinal tissues. Over the last decade, the group has broadened its reach to include a global community of researchers interested in the intervertebral disc and spine.

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