Atlanta, GA,
13:13 PM

Shepherd Center Welcomes New Vice President of Research and Innovation

Deborah Backus, PT, Ph.D., FACRM, looks forward to advancing Shepherd Center’s position as a leader in clinical innovation.

Deborah Backus, PT, Ph.D., FACRM, is the vice president of research and innovation at Shepherd Center.

Deborah Backus, PT, Ph.D., FACRM, assumed the role of vice president of research and innovation on March 1, 2021. Dr. Backus is a grant-funded researcher, physical therapist and educator with more than 30 years of experience in the neurorehabilitation field, most recently as director of multiple sclerosis research at Shepherd Center. At Shepherd, she has been instrumental in facilitating clinician involvement in research activities, translation of evidence into clinical practice and uptake of technology into clinical programs.

Q: How did your career get started? 

I actually began my career as a physical therapist. I graduated from physical therapy school in 1986 and began working at Shepherd Center in 1989. While I loved my work as a PT, I felt like I wanted to continue to learn. My passion was finding new ways to improve our patients’ function, health and quality of life. So, I made the decision to leave Shepherd Center to pursue my Ph.D. in neuroscience. Through the years of pursuing my doctorate, I also had my three wonderful kids, moved to New Jersey and then moved back to Atlanta in 2004.

When I returned to Atlanta, I knew I wanted to apply what I had learned through my doctoral training to directly impact our patients at Shepherd Center. I began working at the hospital again and officially started my career in research. Initially, I worked on spinal cord injury research. After holding various roles, I became director of multiple sclerosis research in 2012 after the MS Rehabilitation and Wellness Research Program began as part of the Eula C. and Andrew C. Carlos MS Rehabilitation and Wellness Program at Shepherd Center.

Q: What are your main responsibilities as vice president of research and innovation?

My job is to expand Shepherd Center’s already innovative clinical and research programs to ensure the hospital continues to be at the forefront of treatment and technological advances for spinal cord injury, brain injury, stroke, multiple sclerosis, and spine and chronic pain.

Q: Why are research and innovation important at Shepherd Center?

We know that healthcare is changing, and we want to be at the forefront of finding new ways to work smarter and more effectively in neurorehabilitation to improve patients’ lives. At Shepherd Center, we are well-positioned to do that through research and innovation. Our experienced clinical experts, successful research directors, enthusiastic academic and industry partners, and diverse patient population are willing to work together to improve clinical outcomes through research trials, technological advances and analytics. When we work together, the opportunities are endless.

Q: What are you most excited about in the next five years at Shepherd Center?

I’m really excited to work with our clinicians, leadership and patients to build the innovation culture at Shepherd Center. This hospital was built on bold, innovative practice, and now I look forward to continuing in that spirit. We never say we can’t do something, and that’s one of the things I love most about working here.

I’m also excited about building our data analytics capacity. We have collected a robust set of patient data through the years that can inform how we care for patients in the future to drive better clinical efficiencies and outcomes.

Finally, we have an opportunity to develop our research program and Assistive Technology Center (ATC) as the hospital plans to expand over the next several years. This expansion will allow us to build and validate more innovative solutions that can help our patients and the rehabilitation field in general.


  • Sargent College at Boston University – Bachelor of Science in Physical Therapy
  • Emory University – Ph.D. in Neuroscience


  • In her spare time, Dr. Backus loves to exercise, cook and spend time outside enjoying a glass of wine with family and friends.
  • Dr. Backus has three kids who all attend the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. The kids grew up in Connecticut and New Jersey, so it is quite a coincidence that they all chose that school for college!
  • Dr. Backus is grateful to her husband and kids for being supportive throughout her career. She says, “If I didn’t have such an awesome husband and kids, I would not be able to take on this new role at Shepherd Center.”

About Shepherd Center

Shepherd Center provides world-class clinical care, research, and family support for people experiencing the most complex conditions, including spinal cord and brain injuries, multi-trauma, traumatic amputations, stroke, multiple sclerosis, and pain. An elite center recognized as both Spinal Cord Injury and Traumatic Brain Injury Model Systems, Shepherd Center is ranked by U.S. News as one of the nation’s top hospitals for rehabilitation. Shepherd Center treats thousands of patients annually with unmatched expertise and unwavering compassion to help them begin again.