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A muscular mission | UC Davis Magazine


“One day Ron told me in our class that he was going to the Bay Area to buy this thing called a microprocessor. Did I want to come? Lieber remembered. “I drove with him to Santa Clara at a little company called Intel, and we bought this big wooden box with a chip in it and a giant car full of manuals to try and make that chip a science.

Together, they built what he described as one of the first computers to measure a biological signal – measuring the optical properties of muscle. They finally published their findings in an engineering journal.

“What an opportunity for a child! ” he said.

Lieber added that he took his fundamental courses at UC Davis in physiology, engineering, zoology and animal sciences. He finally got his doctorate. in Biophysics at UC Davis.

Become a muscular man

He took up a postdoctoral position at UC San Diego, where he became a professor in 1984. There he focused his research on the science and physiology of skeletal muscle.

He has also developed expertise in cerebral palsy. The spark first came from a connection to UC Davis, where he became aware of the associated muscle issues. At UCSD, he was able to connect and work with surgeons to further study patients with cerebral palsy.

He helped develop a tool that allows surgeons to accurately measure the microscopic structure of a muscle and therefore its optimal functioning. He was also part of the discovery that muscle contractures in children with cerebral palsy occur because the muscles do not grow. Children do not have enough stem cells that help muscle growth.

Lucas Smith, assistant professor in the department of neurobiology, physiology and behavior at UC Davis, received his doctorate. of UCSD, with Lieber as principal advisor.

“He taught me how to conduct rigorous experiments on muscle, but more than that, he taught me what it means to be passionate about science,” Smith said. “He was adept at breaking big problems down into fundamental chunks and then motivating us to solve them. Smith added that Lieber gave him confidence to take the role at UC Davis in 2018.

His work led Lieber to venture into entrepreneurship and he even obtained his MBA from the Rady School of Management at UCSD in 2013.

“My MBA taught me a lot about what universities can do to progress,” he said.

In 2014, he took up his current position at the Shirley Ryan Ability Lab. These days, he said he’s still excited about the job and is optimistic about more breakthroughs.

To address the lack of stem cells needed for healthy muscle growth in children with cerebral palsy, Lieber and his team recently started a trial in which they use an anti-cancer drug to turn altered muscle stem cells into normal muscle stem cells. .

On the tech side, he’s working on a new laser to measure muscle structure – a laser that wouldn’t require cutting a person like was done in previous studies.

“I’m shining the new laser on the skin like a laser pointer, and I’m getting signals,” he said. “We believe that being able to measure this more broadly would have a lot of societal impact, because musculoskeletal issues are so common in a typical doctor’s office.”

Lieber said he viewed his training at UC Davis as critical to his success: “I have met some amazing teachers, especially Dr Baskin, who taught me to think critically. For this I will be eternally grateful. Come on Aggies!