Innovation Hub at Boston Children's | Overview
The Wu Tsai Female Athlete Program is an innovation hub for the Wu Tsai Human Performance Alliance. Our center brings together national and international sports medicine clinicians and researchers with the aim of answering fundamental physiological and sports performance questions related to female athletes.
Together, we are pushing the frontiers of female sports medicine in order to improve the health, welfare, and performance of girls and women around the globe.
We take an interdisciplinary, collaborative, and systematic approach to answering the most salient sports performance questions for female athletes. With research and clinical care that informs the other, we are developing a new standard of care for female athletes across the lifespan while simultaneously offering novel performance metrics for our athletes. Through this work, we are actively preventing injuries while studying new treatment approaches and providing continuity of care for girls and women in sport. Through ongoing scientific translation, dissemination, and education, we ensure practitioners across the sports ecosystem have the knowledge they need to enhance participation and performance for girls and women.
Wu Tsai Female Athlete Program’s Approach to Clinical Questions
The state of sports medicine research and female athletes
Our center addresses the historic absence of female athletes in sports science research and explores the needs of girls and women throughout their life phases: adolescence, reproductive years, during and after pregnancy, and into menopause. The physiology of female athletes and mechanisms of injury have been described as complex, difficult to understand, and too expensive to study properly. Instead, findings from male-based studies have frequently been applied to female athletes inappropriately.
Compared to male athletes, female athletes experience higher rates of various sports injuries (e.g., ACL tears) and can experience long-term negative consequences of those injuries, such as early onset osteoarthritis. Further, one in three girls drops out of sports by her late teens compared to just one in 10 teenage boys.
We aim to redress these gaps from clinical, medical, and psychosocial perspectives to ensure the many benefits of sports participation are equally available to all athletes, regardless of their gender. Given the significant positive physical, emotional, social, and professional impacts that can accrue through sports involvement, improving girls’ and women’s participation has broad population health implications.
Research on a global scale
The Wu Tsai Female Athlete Program serves thousands of athletes and collaborates with clinicians and researchers around the world. By treating and studying female athletes specializing in different sports disciplines, of varied backgrounds, and in disparate environments, we aim to collectively provide a model of understanding and supporting girls and women through a scientific lens.
Our current research falls under three main themes:
- female injury and performance effects related to menstrual cycle elucidations (FIERCE)
- relative energy deficiency in sport (RED-S)
- female athlete resilience (FAR)
Wu Tsai Female Athlete Program areas of research, clinical care, education, and advocacy
- assessment of female-specific research and performance-enhancing guidelines across the lifespan
- determination of biomarkers correlated with adequate energy availability
- validation of clinical screening tools (e.g., RED-S clinical assessment tool)
- treatment for low bone-mineral density in female athletes with a history of multiple bone stress injuries, and development of improved return to running protocols after such injuries
Our biennial, international Female Athlete Conference currently serves as our main point of research and treatment protocol dissemination. The 2021 Female Athlete Conference reached over 1,000 participants from 32 different countries and spawned new partnerships among attendees and speakers.
Our team includes distinguished national and international collaborators and advisors dedicated to the health and well-being of female athletes.
Kathryn (Kate) Ackerman, MD, MPH, FACSM, is the medical director of the Wu Tsai Female Athlete Program at Boston Children’s, associate director of the Sports Endocrine Research Lab at Massachusetts General Hospital, and an associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School. She is board certified in internal medicine, sports medicine, and endocrinology, and serves as chair of the USRowing Medical Commission and as a member of the World Rowing Medical Commission. Her research focuses on female athlete health, bone health, and relative energy deficiency in sport (RED-S). Dr. Ackerman directs the Innovation Hub @ Boston Children’s and serves as lead on translating moonshot findings to clinical practice.
Martha Murray, MD, is an orthopedic surgeon in the Sports Medicine Division at Boston Children’s and professor of orthopedic surgery at Harvard Medical School. She is an expert in caring for injuries of the knee and the inventor of the bridge-enhanced® ACL repair (BEAR®) technique for natural regeneration of the remaining ACL without a graft. She serves as the co-director of research with a focus on regenerative medicine and improvement of care of surgical injuries.
Kimberly O’Brien, PhD, LICSW, is a clinical social worker and research scientist in the Sports Medicine Division and Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Boston Children’s, assistant professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, and the mental skills and performance coach for the Harvard University women’s hockey team. With a focus on mental health and performance, she serves as the lead for female athlete resilience projects.
Miriam Rowan, PsyD, is a licensed clinical psychologist, instructor in psychology at Harvard Medical School, and attending psychologist at Boston Children’s Wu Tsai Female Athlete Program, Sports Medicine Division, Orthopedic Center, and Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences. She is a psychology consultant to the Boston Ballet. She serves as a program attending psychologist and co-investigator on female athlete resilience studies.
Carolyn Black Becker, PhD, ABPP (Trinity University), is a licensed, board-certified clinical psychologist who specializes in the implementation of scientifically supported interventions in clinical and real-world settings. Her primary areas of research include body image, eating disorders, and posttraumatic stress disorder. She works on projects focused on female athlete resilience and survey validation.
Cheri Blauwet, MD (Harvard Medical School), is a renowned sports medicine physician, Paralympic gold medalist, and advocate and researcher for para athletes. She serves on the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Committee Board of Directors, the International Paralympic Committee Medical Committee, and the International Olympic Committee> Medical and Scientific Commission. She serves as one of the clinical researchers with a focus on athletes with disabilities.
Mary Bouxsein, PhD (Harvard Medical School), is professor of orthopedic surgery and director of the Center for Advanced Orthopedic Studies at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. She is a biomechanical engineer with expertise in skeletal fragility, bone biology, and non-invasive imaging. She serves as the co-director of research, with a particular focus on clinical and translational studies related to skeletal health.
Louise Burke, PhD, OAM (Australian Catholic University), is a world-renowned sports dietitian, whose past activities include 30 years of service at the Australian Institute of Sport and headquarters dietitian for Team Australia at five summer Olympic games. She leads research at the Mary MacKillop Institute for Health Research and works with international associations such as the IOC and World Athletics to develop sports nutrition and health guidelines. She is involved in study design and implementation of female athlete studies in Australia.
Kirsty Elliott-Sale, PhD, FHEA (Nottingham Trent University), is a professor of female exercise physiology and the head of the Musculoskeletal Physiology Research Group at Nottingham Trent University. In addition to research on female athletes, her work in recent years has involved designing and implementing exercise interventions during and following pregnancy in a variety of populations, including servicewomen (i.e., military personnel), athletes, and women with obesity. She is an international leader on female athlete study methodology and the impacts of oral contraceptives and menstrual cycle phases on female athletic performance and health.
John Hawley, PhD (Australian Catholic University), is a leader in the molecular basis of exercise training and the effects of exercise-nutrient interactions on skeletal muscle metabolism. He provides expertise on exercise physiology, molecular, and translational studies involved with a Wu Tsai Alliance moonshot project: the Molecular Athlete.
Ida Heikura, PhD, is a postdoctoral research fellow at Canadian Sport Institute Pacific and University of Victoria (B.C., Canada). Ida completed her PhD in 2020 at Australian Catholic University, where her thesis examined the health and performance outcomes of dietary periodization in elite endurance athletes. Ida’s current research explores the prevalence, symptoms and assessment of Relative Energy Deficiency in Sport (RED-S) in Canadian and international high-performance athletes with the aim of developing an enhanced clinical assessment tool for early diagnosis and prevention of RED-S in female and male athletes.
Adam Holland, JD (Harvard Law School), is a lawyer, sports psychologist, and coach. His work ranges from copyright law to the ethics and governance of artificial intelligence and beyond. A rowing world championship medalist and Olympian, Adam has coached rowing at all levels for over 20 years. Adam will bring his diverse experiences to bear as a thought partner and network builder.
Emily Kraus, MD (Stanford Female Athlete Program), is a sports medicine physician who studies injury prevention, endurance running medicine, and bone stress injuries in girls and women. She is the director of Stanford’s Female Athlete Program in collaboration with the Innovation Hub @ Boston Children’s.
Dan Lieberman, PhD (Harvard University), is the Edwin M Lerner II Professor of Biological Sciences, and a professor in the Department of Human Evolutionary Biology at Harvard University. His research focuses on the evolution of physical activity in humans using biomechanical and physiological analyses. He serves as a consultant on projects related to physiological changes that occur during states of energy deficiency.
Julie McCleery, PhD (University of Washington), is a sports and education researcher at the University of Washington focused on coaching and youth sport. She also specializes in building interdisciplinary research-practice collaborations, including a cross-sector initiative to increase equitable access to sport. Ninety organizations in the Seattle area are involved in the initiative. She advises on strategy, translational work, community outreach, and partnerships.
Kristy Popp, PhD (U.S. Army Research Institute of Environmental Medicine), is a research physiologist at USARIEM and a research associate at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School. Her primary research interest lies with the physiological risk factors for bone stress injuries and osteoporosis with a secondary focus on sports performance and general overuse injury prevention.
Trent Stellingwerff, PhD, FACSM (Team Canada via Canadian Sport Institute Pacific), is a key researcher in applied sports physiology and nutrition, conducting clinical research in these fields while working for Team Canada. He provides guidance on implementing studies in free-living elite athletes and in study protocol design.
Tiffany Stewart, PhD (Louisiana State University), is a clinical psychologist, the Dudley and Beverly Coates Endowed Professor, and Director of the Behavior Technology Laboratory at Pennington Biomedical Research Center at Louisiana State University. She has conducted over 20 years of translational research including the development, testing, and dissemination of intervention programs aimed at optimizing the health, performance, and mental resilience of the U.S. military and collegiate female athletes.
Meagan Wasfy, MD (Harvard Medical School), is a cardiologist in the Cardiovascular Performance Program (CPP) at Massachusetts General Hospital, providing care for competitive athletes and active patients. Her research focuses on using cardiac imaging to characterize exercise-induced cardiac remodeling. She consults on studies evaluating cardiovascular physiology in female athletes. The CPP also serves as a site for cardiovascular studies.
Fiona Wilson, PhD, MSc (Trinity College Dublin), is an associate professor in physiotherapy at Trinity College Dublin, serves on the World Rowing Sports Medicine Commission, and leads the World Rowing low back pain care pathway initiative. Her research focuses on brain health in athletes, sports injury epidemiology, low back pain, tendinopathy in sport, and exercise in bone and joint disease. She also has expertise in systematic literature review.
Phathokuhle Zondi, MBChB, MSc, MBA (PCZ Consulting), is an experienced sports medicine physician who has worked across various sports and served as chief medical officer for Team South Africa at numerous games. She is chairperson of the Medical Advisory Commission for the South African Sports Confederation and Olympic Committee (SASCOC), a director of the South African Institute for Drug-Free Sports (SAIDS) and past president of the South African Sports Medicine Association (SASMA). She leads efforts to enhance sports medicine access to underserved female athletes throughout the world.
Boston Children’s clinicians
Melissa Christino, MD, is an orthopedic surgeon who specializes in pediatric and young adult sports medicine and is the director for sports and mental skills research in the Sports Medicine Division. Her research focuses on ACL injuries, psychological aspects of recovery after injury, and athlete wellness.
Nicole Farnsworth, MS, RD, CSSD, LDN, CPT, is a dietitian in the Sports Medicine Division and the Wu Tsai Female Athlete Program. She is also a consulting sports dietitian for Wheaton College. She was a co-chair of the 2021 Female Athlete Conference. She specializes in performance nutrition and counseling athletes with low energy availability, disordered eating, and eating disorders.
Meg Keating, PA-C, is a physician associate in the Sports Medicine Division and the Wu Tsai Female Athlete Program. She served as co-chair of the 2021 Female Athlete Conference. She specializes in sports endocrinology with a focus on female athletes and has provided care to a range of patients, from Olympic-level athletes to young recreational athletes just beginning their athletic careers.
Laura Moretti Reece, MS, RD, CSSD, LDN, is a dietitian in the Sports Medicine Division and the Wu Tsai Female Athlete Program. She is also a consulting sports dietitian for the Boston Ballet Company and USRowing. She specializes in sports performance-based nutrition and treating athletes with low energy availability, disordered eating, and eating disorders.
Bridget Quinn, MD, is an attending medical sports medicine physician in the Wu Tsai Female Athlete Program and Performing Artist Athletes Program, and an assistant professor of orthopedic surgery at Harvard Medical School. She also serves as company physician for the Boston Ballet and is a consulting physician for the Boston Ballet School and Palladino School of Dance at Dean College. She evaluates and treats all sports injuries with a particular interest in dance medicine and the female athlete.
Kristin Whitney, MD, MA, is a sports medicine physician in the Sports Medicine Division. Her approach to care is centered on injury prevention and performance optimization to keep athletes active, healthy, and enjoying the activities they love most. She is a co-director of the Injured Runners Clinic. Her expertise includes musculoskeletal-sports ultrasound for advanced diagnostic and procedural interventions for the injured athlete.
Research and clinical associates
Margo Cramer is a graduate of Harvard Business School and Middlebury College. She has dedicated her career to supporting women from within the public and private sectors. Her work includes innovative housing policy development at the City of Boston and advocacy on behalf of crime victims at the Suffolk County District Attorney's Office. She is grateful to be able to leverage her business planning and management skills to serve female athletes.
Rose (Rory) Kelly is a clinical research assistant with the Wu Tsai Female Athlete Program at Boston Children’s Hospital. A lifelong athlete passionate about the power of sport in healthy development, Rory seeks to contribute to innovative research and clinical care to support athletes as they strive toward their potential in and out of sport.
Samantha Sarafin is a clinical research assistant with the Wu Tsai Female Athlete Program at Boston Children’s Hospital. As an athlete and a writer, she is passionate about advocating for the health, performance, and equality of women and girls in sport, and seeks to do so through research, communications, and education.
Ella Smith, MS, is a research associate at the Mary MacKillop Institute for Health Research at Australian Catholic University. Ella completed a Master of Science in Exercise Physiology at Liverpool John Moores University. She also completed a one-year placement at the Western Australian Institute of Sport, where she worked with athletes across numerous sports. Her research focuses on female athlete sports science.
Jen Thompson is an administrative assistant and the clinical scheduler for the Wu Tsai Female Athlete Program at Boston Children’s Hospital. She is dedicated to coordinating the resources and services available to patients within the Sports Medicine Division and appreciates the commitment of this team to empower females and athletes around the world.
About the Wu Tsai Human Performance Alliance
The Wu Tsai Human Performance Alliance is a scientific collaboration that aims to transform human health on a global scale through the discovery and translation of the biological principles underlying athletic performance.
The alliance explores new ideas, pioneers new technologies, and leverages research to advance the science of human performance. In collaboration with scientists, clinicians, engineers, coaches, and athletes from around the globe, the ultimate success of the alliance is enhanced by diversity — of people, perspectives, talents, and partnerships.