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Sandra A. Billinger, Ph.D., PT, FAHA

Sandra Billinger portrait
Professor, Neurology

Professional Background

Sandra Billinger, Ph.D., PT, FAHA, is a world-renown expert in exercise, brain health, and stroke recovery. Her work has been continuously funded through the National Institutes of Health since 2011 and has also received funding from the American Heart Association and the American Physical Therapy Association. She has published extensively and has delivered hundreds of lectures and courses nationally and internationally.

At the University of Kansas Medical Center, Dr. Billinger is a professor and the vice chair for stroke translational research in the Department of Neurology. She serves as director of the Research in Exercise and Cardiovascular Health (REACH) laboratory and leads several multi-site NIH-funded trials and industry sponsored research. Dr. Billinger also currently serves as the Assistant Director, NeuroImaging Core, within the KU Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center. Her research initiatives have resulted in the following discoveries: 1) development of maximal and submaximal exercise testing protocols on a recumbent stepper, 2) a novel method for assessing brain blood flow response during exercise, and 3) a patent application.

Dr. Billinger formerly served as a professor in the Department of Physical Therapy and Rehabilitation Science for 14 years, where she taught in the physical therapy clinical degree program. She was appointed as the School of Health Profession’s interim associate dean for research from July 2016 until September 2017. She also has joint appointments in the School of Medicine departments of Molecular and Integrative Physiology, and Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation.

Dr. Billinger was honored with the 2016 Stata Norton Teaching Award from the KU School of Health Professions, the 2016 Chancellor’s Distinguished Teaching Award from the University of Kansas, and the 2013 Early Career Achievement in the School of Health Professions Alumna Award. In 2021, she received the Central Exchange’s STEMMy Award in the category of WiSTEMM Educator, and the Excellence in Neurologic Research Award, presented by the Academy of Neurologic Physical Therapy/American Physical Therapy Association.

Academic Background
Billinger earned a bachelor's degree in physical education with a minor in gerontology from Fort Hays State University in Hays, Kansas in 2002. She received her master's degree in physical therapy in 2004 and her doctorate in rehabilitation science in 2008 from the University of Kansas.

She completed a postdoctoral fellowship in cardiovascular outcomes under the direction of John Spertus, M.D., St. Luke’s Hospital, Kansas City, Mo.

Education and Training
  • BS, Physical Education, Fort Hays State University, Hays, Kansas
  • MS, Physical Therapy, University of Kansas Medical Center, Kansas City, Kansas
  • PhD, Rehabilitation Science, University of Kansas Medical Center, Kansas City, Kansas
  • Other, Stroke Council, American Heart Association (FAHA)
Licensure, Accreditations & Certifications
  • Certified Clinical Exercise Specialist, American College of Sports Medicine
  • Physical Therapy, State of Kansas
Professional Affiliations
  • American Heart Association Bugher Oversight Committee, Member, 2020 - Present
  • American Heart Association Stroke Council, Stroke Rehabilitation and Recovery Committee, Chair, 2013 - 2016
  • American Heart Association Stroke Council, Stroke Rehabilitation and Recovery Committee,, Vice Chair, 2012 - 2016
  • Kansas Physical Therapy Association, Research Committee , Member, 2009 - 2012
  • American Heart Association Stroke Council, Member, 2004 - Present
  • Brain Injury Association of America, Member, 2004 - Present
  • American College of Sports Medicine, Member, 1997 - Present



Billinger's research interests focus on three areas of study: cardiovascular physiology, brain aging, and stroke recovery. She has successfully mentored junior faculty, postdoctoral fellows, graduate students, and physical therapy students.

For more detailed information about Billinger's research, please visit the REACH laboratory website.