David W. McMillan, Ph.D.

Director of Education and Outreach, The Miami Project

Research Assistant Professor, Department of Neurological Surgery

David McMillan, Ph.D.

Christine E. Lynn Rehabilitation Center for The Miami Project to Cure Paralysis
1611 NW 12th Avenue, Room 2.141 (R-48)
Miami, FL  33136


Research Interests

Areas Of Research



Dr. David McMillan’s quest to The Miami Project began in 2010 during his undergraduate scientific training (BS Kinesiology; Dr. Todd A. Astorino at CSU San Marcos) where concurrent to his studies he serendipitously began working with people who have spinal cord injury (SCI) at a facility called Project Walk. He aimed to marry these academic and community efforts, and started to during his masters (MS Kinesiology; Dr. Christine J. Dy at CSU Los Angeles) with a thesis on “interappendicular neurological coupling” determining the role that arm-swings during locomotor rehab plays on muscle activity of paralyzed legs during assisted walking. In the summer of 2014 he was named a Sally Casanova Pre-Doctoral Scholar and awarded funding to conduct a summer research fellowship at The Miami Project to Cure Paralysis in the Applied Physiology Laboratory of Dr. Mark Nash.

After this fruitful summer fellowship Dr. McMillan began his doctoral training (PhD Exercise Physiology) at the University of Miami under the advisement of Dr. Kevin A. Jacobs and Dr. Mark S. Nash. His dissertation project, funded by a Craig H. Neilsen foundation SCIRTS grant, was the first trial to use stable isotope metabolic tracers in persons with SCI (NCT03691532). Dr. McMillan’s postdoctoral training was conducted with Dr. David Gater at the Christine E. Lynn Rehabilitation Center for The Miami Project to Cure Paralysis a involved a clinical trial determining the effect of a home-based exercise and/or nutritional intervention on obesity in SCI (NCT03495986).

Outside of academia Dr. McMillan is active in the community where he is a keen purveyor of adaptive outdoor recreation. Of interest, he is a scuba diver and “adaptive dive buddy” where he facilitates diving for youth and adults with various types of disability.  He contributes to this field as a Board Member and Co-Chair of the Scientific Advisory Committee for Therapeutic Scuba Institute, Inc.

Understanding and treatment of secondary complications of SCI; community research partnership

Scientific Activities: Advances in the medical management of the acute and chronic complications of spinal cord injury (SCI) have expanded life expectancy of those with this condition. As people with SCI live longer fuller lives, the secondary complications of a lifetime of paralysis are allowed to surface. These secondary complications, referred to as co-morbidities and often not visible from the outside, involve almost every organ system in the body and have a profound impact on the routines, daily activities, and health of persons with SCI. My research involves human subjects and focuses primarily on the metabolic health complications of SCI. Specifically, I am interested in understanding disorders of fat metabolism that occur after SCI, and then in optimizing accessible (“low-tech/low-cost”) treatments for the outcomes of disordered fat metabolism—such as obesity. Regarding an understanding of fat metabolism: In an on-going project (NCT03691532) employing stable isotope lipid tracers—a first in persons with SCI—we are establishing an understanding of the impact of SCI on absorption and utilization of dietary fats. This understanding of the acute handling of exogenous (dietary) fat will be one piece in the puzzle of understanding the well-documented chronic accumulation of fat that leads to obesity. Preliminary analysis from this project suggests that level of SCI influences absorption of dietary fats, with higher injuries possibly leading to slower transit times (PMID: 33613318). Regarding treatments for fat metabolism: My dissertation began by showing that “high intensity” circuit resistance exercise, while relying heavily on sugars to meet the energy demands during exercise, results in long lasting increases in fat utilization after exercise in persons with paraplegia and incomplete tetraplegia (PMID: 33655367). A follow up study in persons with paraplegia expanded on this topic by showing that exercise intensity modulates the postexericse metabolic “boost” independent of the energy cost of the exercise session (PMID: 33433151). I am now involved in on-going trials at our center examining the long-term effects of exercise interventions on obesity and other measures of metabolic health (NCT03495986).

Research Partnerships: Along with my distinct scientific agenda, I serve an academic role that affords me the potential to facilitate community research partnerships. As Director of Education and Outreach for The Miami Project to Cure Paralysis I manage a suite of programs and events to disseminate our research activities to a diverse range of audiences. Along with this medical science liaison role, I am deeply interested in using this position to cultivate participatory research relationships. In my personal research I have successfully engaged community research partners, and am now working on scaling laterally the techniques I learned from this process. In doing so I aim for researchers and the communities they serve to benefit from the participatory process of co-creation and shared ownership.

For any inquiries about the clinical research programs at The Miami Project, please contact the Education Department at 305-243-7108 or mpinfo@med.miami.edu.