Dr. Babak Shadgan, PhD’11

Dr. Babak Shadgan is an assistant professor at the UBC Department of Orthopaedics and an associate faculty member at the School of Biomedical Engineering and the Department of Pathology. He is a sports physician with a Ph.D. in Experimental Medicine from UBC. Dr. Shadgan is a Fellow of the International Society for Optics and Photonics (SPIE). He completed a fellowship on near-infrared spectroscopy (NIRS) at the Martinos Center for Biomedical Imaging of Harvard University. His postdoctoral fellowship at the International Collaboration on Repair Discoveries (ICORD) focused on the clinical application of NIRS in people with spinal cord injury. Dr. Shadgan is a principal investigator at ICORD, where he directs the Implantable Biosensing Laboratory. His research focuses on wearable and implantable biosensing applications. Additionally, as an Olympic Sports Physician and chairman of the Medical & Anti-Doping Commission of the United World Wrestling, Dr. Shadgan has directed medical coverage of wrestling competitions in world championships and Olympic Games since 2003. 

What drew you to the PhD in Experimental Medicine program at UBC? 
In 2004, a patient of mine, who was a gold medalist wrestler, had to withdraw from the Athens 2004 Olympic Games due to increasing leg pain called chronic exertional leg pain syndrome. A common cause of this condition is chronic exertional compartment syndrome (CECS). CECS leads to a gradual increase in pressure within one or more compartments of the leg, interrupting intra-compartmental blood flow and resulting in painful and disabling tissue ischemia. The ultimate treatment for CECS requires an early and accurate diagnosis. This Olympic experience inspired me to develop a non-invasive method for the accurate diagnosis of CECS. Consequently, I joined the Experimental Medicine program at UBC in 2006 to address this clinical challenge.

Dr. Shadgan at the Implantable Biosensing Laboratory. Photo courtesy of Dr. Babak Shadgan.

What is your favorite memory from your time at UBC?
One of my earliest memorable experiences at UBC was receiving a letter from the Michael Smith Foundation for Health Research (MSFHR) in 2007, informing me that I had been awarded a 3-year Senior Graduate Trainee Award. That moment is a wonderful memory, and the support I received was extremely encouraging and instrumental in my successful journey at UBC. 

What has been your journey since graduating from UBC?
In 2011, I was granted a 3-year postdoctoral award from and began a postdoctoral fellowship at the International Collaboration in Repair Discoveries (ICORD) after completing my PhD at UBC. During my fellowship at UBC Hospital, I developed a new optical technique using near-infrared spectroscopy (NIRS) to noninvasively evaluate bladder dysfunction. Subsequently, in 2013, I accepted a Research Associate position to expand my technique for evaluating bladder dysfunction in individuals with spinal cord injuries. In 2016, I transferred to the UBC Department of Orthopaedics to work on developing an implantable optical sensor for monitoring spinal cord hemodynamics in acute spinal cord injuries.

After receiving a Scholar award from MSFHR in 2018, I was appointed Assistant Professor at the Department of Orthopaedics. Later, I became a member of the UBC School of Biomedical Engineering and the Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine as an Associate Faculty member. In 2020, I established the Implantable Biosensing Laboratory (IBL) in ICORD, where my team has been exploring advanced biosensing techniques, focusing on the design, development, and examination of novel implantable biosensors and their clinical applications. IBL serves as a unique laboratory for research and for training graduate students and post-doctoral fellows interested in wearable and implantable biosensors and their applications in exercise, health, and disease.  

Dr. Shadgan assessing an wrestling athlete at the 2022 Commonwealth Games in Birmingham, UK. Photo courtesy of Dr. Babak Shadgan.

In December 2020, I was promoted to the Fellow rank of the International Society for Optics and Photonics (SPIE). SPIE Fellows are distinguished members who have made significant scientific and technical contributions in the fields of optics, photonics, and imaging. I was recognized for my scientific activities in the design and development of advanced wearable and implantable optical sensors.  

This is your 6th consecutive Olympic Games experience. How did you first get involved?
After completing my education in Sports and Exercise Medicine at the University of London (England) in 2003, I became a member of the Medical Commission of the International Federation for Olympic Styles Wrestling (FILA). I was fortunate to be appointed as the Chief Medical Officer for the wrestling competitions at the 2004 Athens Olympic Games, which marked my first Olympic experience. Since then, I have continued to be involved and have been promoted to the role of Chairman of the Medical Commission. This has led to my participation as the Medical Director of wrestling competitions at the 2008 Beijing, 2012 London, 2016 Rio, and 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games. Additionally, I volunteered as a sports physician at the 2004 Athens Paralympic Games and participated as an IOC sports medicine researcher at the 2010 Vancouver Olympic Games. 

What is your role at the 2024 Summer Olympics in Paris? 
In my role as the Medical Director of Olympic wrestling competitions, I will oversee the pre-competition medical examination and treatment of wrestlers for injuries and illnesses during the 2024 Paris Olympic Games. I will also be responsible for supervising the doping control process. Furthermore, my medical team and I will study Olympic wrestling injuries by monitoring and documenting incidences, details, specifications and mechanisms of sports injuries during the Paris wrestling competitions. 

How did your experience in the PhD program prepare you for working with Olympic athletes?  

An incident at the 2004 Athens Olympic Games prompted me to join UBC to conduct research on a sports medicine condition. You can read more about it here: From Olympics to Optics. My PhD training subsequently enhanced my research on wrestling injuries during the Olympic Games, allowing me to develop more effective strategies for the prevention and treatment of wrestling injuries.  

Dr. Shadgan at the Rio 2016 Summer Olympics. Photo courtesy of Tony Rotundo.

What does it mean to you to be able to work for the Olympic Games?  
Being selected to work as a sports physician and medical director at the highest international level, at the Olympic Games, is one of the greatest honours I could have wished for. More importantly, by studying the mechanisms and risk factors of wrestling injuries and illnesses during the Olympic Games since 2004, I was successful in modifying several regulations in amateur wrestling sports to eliminate several harmful practices and dangerous actions. These modifications led to a significant reduction in injuries, from 24.2% at the Athens 2004 Olympic Games to 9.8% at the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games. I am proud of this professional achievement, which reflects many years of dedicated translational research and scientific sports medicine practice. 

What are you most excited about at the Olympics? 
I am thrilled to be working closely with my colleagues and Olympic athletes and witness exceptional wrestling performances from the field of play. 

I am especially looking forward to seeing the outcomes of our injury prevention program, particularly a new approach I have developed to improve the prevention of wrestling injuries during the Olympic Games. After analyzing numerous video clips of wrestling injuries from previous Olympic Games and World Championships, I realized that referees could prevent some injuries by stopping dangerous actions before they resulted in injuries. As a result, I initiated a program to educate international and Olympic referees along with my colleagues at the United World Wrestling Medical Commission. I am excited to witness the impact of this new injury prevention approach during the Paris wrestling competitions. 

What does a healthy society mean to you? 
A healthy society is one in which people have the resources, support, and opportunities to lead healthy, active and fulfilling lives. As a sports physician, my role is to contribute to this vision by promoting effective physical activity, preventing injuries and illnesses, and advocating for holistic health approaches that integrate physical, mental, and social well-being. 

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