Gwendolyn A. Sowa, MD, PhD

  • Tenured Professor and Chair of Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation
  • Co-Director of the Ferguson Laboratory for Orthopaedic and Spine Research at the University of Pittsburgh
  • Medical Director of the UPMC Total Care- Musculoskeletal Health Program

Education & Training

  • Graduate School – University of Wisconsin – PhD – Biochemistry
  • Medical School – University of Wisconsin – MD
  • Internship – St. Luke Medical Center – Internal Medicine
  • Residency – Northwestern Medical School – Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation

Research Grants

NIH Grants:  K08, R21, P30

Research Summary

She has an active research program investigating matrix gene expression changes in response to various stimuli, both chemical and mechanical, in the intervertebral disc. In addition, she has utilized these findings to rationally target biomarkers and other prognostic indicators of response to activity, exercise, and other treatments of musculoskeletal conditions, particularly low back pain.  She had led research projects investigating the utility of serum biomarkers for knee osteoarthritis, axial low back pain, response to spinal injections, response to physical therapy and chiropractic manipulation for low back pain, and spinal cord injury.  The ultimate goal of her research program is to use targeted assessments informed by the basic biology of low back pain to improve treatment. She is a board-certified physiatrist and spends approximately 25% of her time treating outpatients with musculoskeletal and neuromuscular disorders in the University of Pittsburgh Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation. She is the Medical Director of the UPMC Total Care- Musculoskeletal Health program, which is a multi-disciplinary program involving Physiatry, Rheumatology, Pain Anesthesiology, Physical Therapy, Psychology, Nutrition, and Sleep Medicine aimed at individualizing care to improve outcomes.  In addition, she is active in teaching, having trained over 50 trainees on research projects, with over 30 trainee awards locally and nationally for their work.  The ultimate goal of her work is to utilize basic science knowledge to facilitate rational and individualized treatments of individuals with musculoskeletal and neuromuscular conditions to facilitate more effective and efficient care.  

Representative Publications

  1. DeFranco DB, Sowa GA. The importance of basic science and research training for the next generation of physicians and physician-scientists. Mol Endocrinol. 2014 Dec;28(12):1919-21. doi: 10.1210/me.2014-1343. PubMed PMID: 25437019; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC5414780.
  2. Hartman RA, Bell KM, Quan B, Nuzhao Y, Sowa GA, Kang JD. Needle puncture in rabbit functional spinal units alters rotational biomechanics. J Spinal Disord Tech. 2015 Apr;28(3):E146-53. doi: 10.1097/BSD.0000000000000196. PubMed PMID: 25370985; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC4382369.
  3. Sowa GA, Perera S, Bechara B, Agarwal V, Boardman J, Huang W, Camacho-Soto A, Vo N, Kang J, Weiner D. Associations between serum biomarkers and pain and pain-related function in older adults with low back pain: a pilot study. J Am Geriatr Soc. 2014 Nov;62(11):2047-55. doi: 10.1111/jgs.13102. Epub 2014 Nov 3. PubMed PMID: 25367206.
  4. Liu Y, Jang S, Xie L, Sowa GA. Host deficiency in caveolin-2 inhibits lung carcinoma tumor growth by impairing tumor angiogenesis. Cancer Res. 2014 Nov 15;74(22):6452-62. doi: 10.1158/0008-5472.CAN-14-1408. Epub 2014 Sep 30. PubMed PMID: 25269481; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC4233177.
  5. Sowa GA; AAP Research Committee. Introduction to the series: Association of Academic Physiatrists research committee funding priority recommendations. Am J Phys Med Rehabil. 2014 Oct;93(10):908. doi: 10.1097/PHM.0000000000000162. PubMed PMID: 25122108.
  6. Avin KG, Coen PM, Huang W, Stolz DB, Sowa GA, Dubé JJ, Goodpaster BH, O'Doherty RM, Ambrosio F. Skeletal muscle as a regulator of the longevity protein, Klotho. Front Physiol. 2014 Jun 17;5:189. doi: 10.3389/fphys.2014.00189. eCollection 2014. PubMed PMID: 24987372; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC4060456.
  7. Goodman BS, Sowa GA, Buzanowska M, Willey MR, Smith MT, Mallempati S, Kennedy DJ. Intradiskal steroids: a viable treatment for low back pain? PM R. 2014 Jun;6(6):547-55. doi: 10.1016/j.pmrj.2014.05.006. Review. PubMed PMID: 24952765.