Richard L. Lieber

Richard L. Lieber, PhD

Chief Scientific Officer & Senior Vice President of Research

My Lab

Muscle Physiology Lab

We investigate muscle fiber and tendon properties in neurological impairments and sports-related injuries.

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About Me

Richard L. Lieber, PhD, oversees all research endeavors throughout the Shirley Ryan AbilityLab system of care. He joined the organization (then the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago, or RIC) in March 2014, bringing an extensive research focus on the science and physiology of skeletal muscle. Dr. Lieber is the established expert in the field, both nationally and internationally, and is a pioneer in conducting translational research — primarily in patients with spinal cord injury and children with cerebral palsy.

Dr. Lieber, along with Chief Medical Officer James Sliwa, DO, is responsible for implementing the “Research Accelerator Program” —  a novel translational approach embedded in the Shirley Ryan AbilityLab medical and research enterprise, and for demonstrating its tangible and cultural progress.  To date, Drs. Lieber and Sliwa have enabled translational research with both scientists and nearly 200 non-research staff across the hospital.

Dr. Lieber also led the design of Shirley Ryan AbilityLab’s Biologics Lab, in which studies of living human cells, tissues and fluids are used to solve human problems, particularly in the context of rehabilitation and recovery. The lab’s state-0f-the-art equipment allows scientists to monitor living cells as they perform testing of various types. Shirley Ryan AbilityLab’s Biologics Lab is the only one in the world placed in a rehabilitation setting and brings together biologists, physiologists, stem-cell biologists and molecular biologists — all sharing ideas and expertise, and speeding discoveries.

As Chief Scientific Officer, Dr. Lieber oversees the work of more than 200 researchers. Under his leadership, Shirley Ryan AbilityLab has more than 150 research studies and clinical trials under way, all of which will benefit its patient populations. The grant portfolio managed by Dr. Lieber comprises more than $152 million and spans major agencies such as National Institutes of Health, Department of Veterans Affairs, Department of Defense, and National Institute on Disability, Independent Living, and Rehabilitation Research.

Dr. Lieber’s specific area of expertise is studying the design and plasticity of skeletal muscle. Currently, he is developing state-of-the-art technical and biological approaches to understanding and solving painful and debilitating muscle contractures that result from cerebral palsy, stroke and spinal cord injury.

He has published more than 350 articles in scientific journals, from the more fundamental journals such as Biophysical Journal and the Journal of Cell Biology to the more applied-science publications such as the Journal of Hand Surgery, Clinical Orthopaedics and Related Research, and Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation. Over the span of his career, Dr. Lieber has won numerous prestigious awards, among them: Paul B. Magnuson Award from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs for Outstanding Achievement in Rehabilitation Research and Development, 2023; Elsass Foundation Research Prize in Cerebral Palsy, 2023; Fellow, American Institute of Medical and Biological Engineering (AIMBE), 2019; Kappa Delta Award, American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, 2013; Giovanni Borelli Award, American Society of Biomechanics, 2007; The Göteborg University Medal, Sahlgrenska University Hospital, 2007; Fulbright Scholarship (Sweden), 2007; and Kappa Delta Young Investigator Award, American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, 1994.

Dr. Lieber’s laboratory has been supported by the National Institutes of Health in both investigator-initiated grants, as well as center grants, for more than 40 years. He is a Senior Research Career Scientist in the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, where he receives support from the Rehabilitation Engineering Research and Development service. He is also a Professor of Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation, Biomedical Engineering and Neuroscience at Northwestern University.

Prior to joining Shirley Ryan AbilityLab, Dr. Lieber was Professor and Vice Chairman of the Department of Orthopaedic Surgery at the University of California, San Diego (UCSD), and Principal Investigator of the San Diego Skeletal Muscle Research Center — an NIH-funded center designed to leverage muscle expertise on behalf of patients in the San Diego community. He earned his doctorate in Biophysics, with a minor in Electrical Engineering, from the University of California, Davis, where he also earned a BS in Physiology. He earned his MBA from the Rady School of Management at UCSD.



Shirley Ryan AbilityLab

355 East Erie

Chicago, IL 60611

Education & Training



    M.B.A., Rady School of Management, University of California, San Diego
    Ph.D., Biophysics, Electrical Engineering minor, Department of Zoology, University of California, Davis
    B.S., Physiology, University of California, Davis

Recent Publications

Pathophysiology of muscle contractures in cerebral palsy.
Mathewson MA, Lieber RL
Physical medicine and rehabilitation clinics of North America
doi: 10.1016/j.pmr.2014.09.005
Skeletal muscle fibroblasts in health and disease.
Chapman MA, Meza R, Lieber RL
Differentiation; research in biological diversity
doi: 10.1016/j.diff.2016.05.007

Honors & Awards

  • Lifetime Achievement Award
    American Academy for Cerebral Palsy and Developmental Medicine's (AACPDM) , 2021
  • Founders Award
    American College of Sports Medicine (Southwest Chapter), Irvine, CA., 2014
  • Gayle G. Arnold Award
    American Academy of Cerebral Palsy and Developmental Medicine, Minneapolis, MN., 2013
  • Kappa Delta Award
    American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, Chicago, IL., 2013
  • Lieber, R.L. (1996). Method and apparatus for controlling skeletal muscle fatigue during electrical stimulation. Patent Number: 5,507,788.
  • Lieber, R.L. (1989). Adaptive, closed-loop electrical stimulation of muscle. U.S. Patent Number: 4,838,272.
  • Lieber, R.L. and R.J. Baskin. (1986). Surgical myometer method. U.S. Patent Number: 4,570,641.


  • American Academy for Cerebral Palsy and Developmental Medicine (Member)
  • American College of Sports Medicine (Fellow)
  • American Society of Biomechanics (Fellow)
  • Biophysical Society (Member)
  • Fulbright Association (Life Member)
  • Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers (IEEE)(Member)
  • Society for Neuroscience (Member)
  • Western Orthopaedic Association (Honorary Member)


  • Muscle metabolism and mechanical efficiency in cerebral palsy
    National Institute of Child Health & Human Development (NICHDS)
    , 2015 - 2018
  • Functional Comparison Between Nerve and Tendon Transfer after SCI
    Craig H. Neilsen Foundation
    , 2015 - 2018
  • Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago-Craig Neilsen Foundation Spinal Cord Injury Infrastructure Center
    Craig H. Neilsen Foundation
    , 2015 - 2020
  • Optical Frequency Comb NeuroController
    Department of Defense
    , 2016 - 2018
  • Breakingthrough Technology to Measure Human Muscle Function
    Dr. Ralph and Marian Falk Medical Research Trust
    , 2017 - 2018
  • Intraoperative Optimization and Validation of Musculoskeletal Reconstruction
    Edward Hines Jr VA Hospital
    , 2018 - 2019

Work History

  • 2005 - Present
    Senior Research Career Scientist, Edward Hines Jr. Veterans Administration Hospital
  • 2014 - Present
    Professor, Departments of Physiology, Biomedical Engineering and Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation (NU)
  • 2009 - 2014
    Co-Director, Center for Musculoskeletal Research (Institute for Engineering in Medicine at UCSD)
  • 2005 - 2014
    Director, National Skeletal Muscle Research Center
  • 1994 - 2014
    Professor, University of California, San Diego, Departments of Orthopaedics and Bioengineering
  • 1990 - 1994
    Associate Professor, University of California, San Diego, Departments of Orthopaedics and AMES/Bioengineering
  • 2000 - 2005
    Research Career Scientist, Veterans Affairs Medical Center (GS-14), San Diego, Department of Orthopaedic Surgery
  • 1986 - 2000
    Biomedical Engineer, GS-13/14, Veterans Administration Medical Center, San Diego, Department of Orthopaedic Research,
  • 1985 - 1990
    Assistant Professor of Surgery, University of California, San Diego, Department of Surgery, Division of Orthopaedics and Rehabilitation
  • 1983 - 1986
    Biomedical Engineer, GS-11, Veterans Administration Medical Center, San Diego, Department of Orthopaedic Research
  • 1992 - 1995
    Postgraduate Research Physiologist, University of California, San Diego, Department of Surgery, Division of Orthopaedics and Rehabilitation
  • 1981 - 1982
    Research Associate, University of California, Davis