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Q&A with Brecca Gaffney

by Diddiery Santana, student writer

Assistant Professor Brecca Gaffney

Brecca Gaffney, assistant professor of mechanical engineering, joined the CU Denver College of Engineering, Design and Computing in 2020, coming from Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis. She earned her BS at Colorado School of Mines and her MS and PhD degrees at the University of Denver. Gaffney aims to build an active research program to better understand the mechanical effects of intervention on the musculoskeletal system with the help of engineering-based tools and medical imaging.

Q: Why did you choose engineering at CU Denver?

A: I chose CU Denver because it is an environment that cultivates and merges my two greatest passions. As an engineer, my research requires the technical skillsets and creative problem solving that engineering encompasses. As a biomechanist, my research requires access to clinical populations and physicians. Access to both of these environments on one physical campus made CU Denver my top choice. I also am extremely passionate about teaching, particularly at the undergraduate level.

Q: Tell me about your research and your lab?

A: My research uses whole-body and joint-level biomechanics to better understand the mechanical mechanisms of overuse injuries. I am interested in furthering the understanding of how changes in movement, bone, and muscle change the loads applied to the cartilage in potentially damaging ways. My lab is currently exploring how compensations adapted by patients with lower-limb amputation over time may increase the risk of developing joint overuse injuries, such as osteoarthritis, and how these changes may differ between amputation types.

Q: What inspired you to pursue your research?

A: As a collegiate athlete, I have constantly been interested in human performance and injury. As an engineer, I am fascinated by solving problems through understanding the underlying mechanisms of the system. I was first exposed to biomechanics the junior year of my undergraduate program, my ‘lightbulb’ moment. My passion for human movement as an athlete and mechanisms as an engineer were both equally encompassed in biomechanics. Once I became exposed to the creativity of research and how I can utilize engineering-based tools to solve clinically relevant problems that directly impact clinical care and patients’ quality of life, I knew the only career for me was in research.

Q: How does your research fit into the college’s new medtech initiative?

A: My research fits within the core of the initiative that aims to foster collaboration. I always describe biomechanics as the product of both engineering and medicine, and truly believe that you cannot have one without the other. I already have been fortunate to establish myself on the CU Anschutz Medical Campus through collaborations with researchers in physical therapy, orthopedic surgery, and radiology.

Q: What excites you the most about the new Bioscience 3 facility?

A: I am most excited about the high quality of interdisciplinary research. The state-of-the art bench, translational, and clinical research at every level under one roof will be an incredibly inspiring place to work. I also am incredibly excited to be able to be part of an engineering department that is physically housed on a medical campus.

Q: What are the advantages of the college’s multidisciplinary approach to medtech innovation research?

A: The advantages of this type of environment are nearly endless. Most notably, being in an environment that values and cultivates multidisciplinary research is an enormous advantage for me as a researcher beginning my independent career. My research has multiple fields of application including rehabilitation, biomedical engineering, orthopedic surgery, and prosthetic design. Multiple disciplines are required to perform high-quality translational research with a clinical impact.

Q: How does it benefit/bolster your individual research/lab?

A: This environment will bolster my research by providing the opportunity to collaborate with individuals I may not have otherwise thought would be applicable to my work. One of the most exciting things about science and research is learning of new collaborations that can have an impact on your research that may not have been obvious.

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