Board of Governors recognizes physical therapy professor Joseph A. Roche for contributions to COVID-19 research

Joseph Roche
Two of the five Wayne State professors chosen for the 2021 Board of Governors Faculty Recognition Award call WSU Applebaum home: Associate Professor of Physical Therapy Dr. Joseph A. Roche (above) and Clinical Professor of Pharmacy Practice Dr. Susan Davis. Both made major contributions related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Eugene Applebaum College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences Associate Professor of Physical Therapy Joseph A. Roche is one of five Wayne State professors being presented with a 2021 Board of Governors Faculty Recognition Award. He is being honored for his research work and the publication of four papers, including one directly related to COVID-19 — a completely new research area for him.

Dr. Roche is a physical therapist and researcher who studies rare forms of muscular dystrophy. When the pandemic hit in early 2020, however, he trained his attention on the coronavirus. Working with his wife, Dr. Renuka Roche, an assistant professor of occupational therapy at Eastern Michigan University, the two formulated a detailed hypothesis utilizing evidence, which implicated dysregulated bradykinin signaling in COVID-19 complications and suggested that bradykinin inhibitors might improve outcomes.

In early May 2020, only two months into the pandemic, the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology’s FASEB Journal fast-tracked and published their article, “A Hypothesized Role for Dysregulated Bradykinin Signaling in COVID-19 Respiratory Complications.” 

“Dr. Roche’s paper has already been highly cited, garnering attention in some of the most prestigious journals in the field,” said Bradley A. Williams, director of research for Jain Foundation, a muscular dystrophies nonprofit. “I have had some very interesting discussions with him on implications of the new COVID-19 vaccines for people with neuromuscular diseases.”

This novel paper by Dr. Roche is alone an outstanding contribution to scholarship and learning during the severe pandemic crisis over the last year, and demonstrates his commitment to professional rigor and creativity.
– Miranda D. Grounds, emeritus professor and honorary senior research fellow, University of Western Australia

Indeed, the hypothesis has garnered significant interest from researchers, medical professionals and the media near and far. Wayne State is currently engaged in discussions with industry partners on taking the next steps toward moving the BK blockade idea into the clinic. Dr. Joshua Zimmerberg, a National Institutes of Health intramural investigator, also invited Dr. Roche to give a virtual talk on his research regarding muscle disorders and COVID-19 at the NIH.

Amid these achievements, Dr. Roche always prioritized his duties to his students and the college,” said WSU Applebaum Dean Cathy Lysack. “He is a dedicated and much-loved teacher and a very positive and active contributor to a range of cross-college initiatives.”

Each year since 1974, the Board of Governors, in conjunction with the president, has presented the Faculty Recognition Award to up to five members of the regular full-time faculty in response to a particular accomplishment during the previous academic year. Each award consists of a citation, an engraved plaque and an unrestricted award of $2,500.

Of the five faculty members chosen from across campus this year, two of them represent WSU Applebaum. Clinical Professor of Pharmacy Practice Susan Davis also earned recognition for her contributions to national COVID-19 treatment guidelines.

The awards will be presented at the April 30 Board of Governors meeting and recognized during Academic Recognition Week, May 3-7.

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