The Sport and Exercise Science Research Group (SESRG).
The newly formed SESRG has produced an impressive and competitive publication record and a significant new cohort of PhD completions. These achievements have been supported by a significant increase in funding from external agencies such as the Wellcome Trust and LTA and have extended the success of the submission in 1996 (rated 3b) by Ward and Wang, who subsequently left in 1998.
The recruitment of Prof. Duncan Turner from Leeds as the new Director of Research (DT; exercise physiologist; PhD Univ. Birmingham) led to a major appraisal of Sport Science at SBU. This led to the appointment of three further key senior scientists; Drs. J. Bowtell (JB; exercise biochemist; PhD Univ. Dundee), K. Mileva (KM; physiologist and biocybernetist; PhD Univ. St. Petersburg, Russia) and T. Zhang (TZ; computational neurophysiologist; PhD Univ. Birmingham). The appointments of young, developing and re-emerging researchers have also strengthened the SESRG (D. Cook; DC, sports biomechanist / P. Davey; PD, sports physiologist / J. Seeley; JS, neuropsychologist). Investment by the University of over £500K (mainly QR and CollR) during the review period in the form of key appointments and development of research by newer SESRG members together with state-of-the-art equipment will secure continued growth over the next review period.
The relationship of SESRG to departmental and school structure.
The expansion of SESRG has paralleled the development of the new Human Performance Centre (HPC) directed by PD (BASES accredited in Sport Physiology Support). The HPC offers support services to Olympic and elite athletes. Together with sport bursaries for studying BSc/MSc courses in Sports or Coaching Science and mentoring schemes in the local community school districts, these new innovations highlight the School’s ongoing integrated support of Sport Science at SBU.
The nature and quality of the research infrastructure, including facilities for students.
The SESRG undertake research in purposely-refurbished and equipped laboratories. The laboratory spaces measure 21 m2 (Brain Lab), 36 m2 (Muscle/Cardiovascular Lab), 36m2 (Movement Neuroscience Lab) and 80 m2 (Neuromechanics Lab). We also use newly designed Sports Facilities at SBU in studies of tennis science. Postgraduate students have the use of office space in a dedicated Postgraduate Room equipped with four networked PC stations. Senior researchers have their own office space with networked PC stations. All research staff have access to dedicated PC workstations for large poster production and other multimedia links. Research students attend specifically relevant Workshops in the UK (e.g. Physiological Society Workshop in Muscle Physiology, Birmingham University and Cognitive Neuroscience Autumn Schools, Oxford University, 2000) and overseas (e.g. Motor Control XI, Bulgaria, 2000; Motor Control, Lund Univ., Sweden, 2001) to learn new techniques. They present their research in oral or poster formats at meetings of the Physiological Society, Society of Neuroscience, ACSM, ECSS and BASES. The research students benefit from interaction with a supervisory team (usually 3 academics from SBU and outside) and adhere to formalized University guidelines for an Annual Summary of Research and the MPhil to PhD transfer system. All researchers are appraised annually through formalized procedures. The research infrastructure has focused efforts in specific Research Themes, which in turn have brought to fruition several major achievements by SESRG staff.
Arrangements for interdisciplinary or collaborative research leading to major achievements.
A positive approach to collaboration in interdisciplinary projects is encouraged and funded in Away-Days (regularly) and results or opinions are presented in Idea Exchange Meetings (fortnightly). The SESRG has extensive collaborations in the UK and overseas, and supports invited research groups to present their work in a Research Seminar Series, funded by the Physiological Society. SESRG senior scientists have collectively planned and organized the successful responses to research council directives and business initiatives through regular strategy meetings. Research collaborations are activated at the School or Institutional level through the School Research Committee (DT is Deputy chair) and the University Research Office, which offers advice on costing proposals and contractual/IPR matters.
Mechanisms/Practices for developing and promoting major research achievements.
Research Themes have been defined with each one having senior staff expertise, Ph.D. students and equipment. Each research laboratory functions as a hub for the different Themes and acts as a focal point for the allocation of HEFCE resources in the next 5 year plan for future development of SESRG. (see http://www.sbu.ac.uk/sas/sesrc1.html). The four Research Themes are:
Movement Neuroscience: Projects and major achievements include:
1. Establishing neural mechanisms of short and long term serotonin-mediated neuromodulation of rhythmic motor behaviours during exercise (DT). A Wellcome Trust Project Grant (£130k) funds both Dr P. Sumners as a postdoctoral researcher and an international UK-USA collaborative research project with Prof. G.S. Mitchell, UW-Madison, USA (reviewed in Respir. Physiol., 110, 277, 1997).
2. Establishing non-linear tools for identifying "information flow“ in human neural pathways during Pavlovian conditioning of locomotory and cardiorespiratory systems (TZ). These projects are funded by the Wellcome Trust and Nuffield Foundation. Several analysis techniques have been applied to sensorimotor integration (reviewed in Sig. Process. & Intelli., 1999 pp1-7; ISBN 7-5623-1485-3) and cardiorespiratory interaction (J. Physiol., 525, 34P, 2000).
3. Interlimb reflex co-modulation during walking, cycling and reaching/grasping (KM). Studies on spinal reflex responses to perturbations (e.g. stumbling) and supraspinal mechanisms mediating motor learning in a robot-induced force field are funded by major SBU research grants (£100k).
4. Resolving motor axon fatigue and "central" serotonin-mediated fatigue in humans (KM/DT).
Non-invasive axonal studies are made in collaboration with Profs H Bostock (Inst. Neurology, UCL) and D.I. Stephanova (Bulg. Acad. Sci., Sofia, Bulgaria) and present projects on serotonin using tryptophan depletion are performed in collaboration with Dr A Bond (Inst. Psychiatry, KCL).
The equipment used includes topographical brain electroencephalography (Neuroscan 32 EEG channel system with Scan 4 software) and electromyography (B&L Engineering). Specific stimulus presentation includes vibratory (Ling Dynamics Ltd.), electrical (Digitimer Ltd.), transcranial magnetic ‘BiStim’ paired-pulse (Magstim Co. Ltd.) and choice reaction time paradigms (Superlab Inc.). Data analysis is performed by dedicated systems (3 independent 1401 ADC systems with 20 preamplifiers; CED) and MATLAB Simulink (Mathworks). 3D neuromechanical kinematics of body segments during cycling, reaching/grasping, throwing and running are also supported (SRM and Kistler force systems; Biometrics electrogoniometers; RDP force transducers; Qualisys 3D ProReflex camera and 6 Canon XM1 digital video camera systems). An MIT-MANUS neurorehabilitation robot (MIT, Boston USA) produces a 3D force field, into or through which a subject may move a limb. Thus, we can assess and selectively disturb the co-ordination of several natural and complex movements.
Muscle and Bone Function: Projects on muscle and skeletal adaptation and achievements include:
1. Identifying effects of carbohydrate or protein diet on muscle energy and protein metabolism (JB).
The results have increased understanding of protein-CHO interactions and inform sports nutrition guidelines. Investigations of the molecular mechanisms that initiate and regulate muscle hypertrophy include collaborative efforts with the group directed by Prof. Michael Rennie, as part of the MRC funded Nutrient Sensing & Signaling Co-Operative at Dundee University.
2. Resolving interactions between amino acid and glucose metabolism during exercise and recovery (JB). Protein and carbohydrate mixtures are used to promote glycogen resynthesis post-exercise and the anaplerotic role of glutamine during exercise. These studies are in collaboration with Profs. Paul Greenhaff (Univ. Nottingham) and Clyde Williams (Loughborough Univ.).
3. Establishing interactions of Ca2+ ion flux and high frequency electromagnetic fields (EMF) in modulating muscle function (KM). Experimental studies and modeling have highlighted implications for exercise and EMF-related disease (reviewed in Comp. Rend. L’Acad. Bulg. Sci., 53, 101, 2000).
4. Musculoskeletal plasticity after changes in physical activity (DT). The mechanical transduction pathways for cortical bone modification during endurance training involve surprisingly complex cellular and microanatomical adaptive responses (reviewed in Calc. Tissue Int., 64, 66,1999; ‘Physiological Determinants of Exercise Tolerance in Humans’. Eds. B.J. Whipp & A.J. Sargeant. Portland Press, 2000, pp29-47; ISBN 1-8557-8026-7).
Human studies involve muscle biopsies that are taken on site with Ethical approval. Techniques employed include stable isotope technologies, mass spectrometry (Airpsec QP9000) and standard colorimetric/fluorometric assays (Jenway UV spectrophotometer 6305 and fluorometer 6200, COBAS Mira analyser). Equipment for monitoring muscle function includes leg extension (LExt) ergometer (TechnoGym), force transducers (RDP Ltd.) and NIR spectroscopy (NIRO500, Hamamatsu).
Cardiac and Vascular Function. Recent achievements and projects include: 2. Abdominal aorta, femoral artery and deep vein vessel function and structure during LExt exercise in hypoxia (DT). The LExt model with alveolar gas clamping has been developed in collaboration with Dr. K. Shoemaker and Prof. D.A. Cunningham, Centre for Aging, Univ. Western Ontario, Canada and supported by the School via a major research sabbatical for S. Hunter (SH) as a PhD student.
1. Improving cardiac structure/function in humans using endurance training (DT). This project parallels a voluntary running rat model which uses electrophysiological techniques in isolated cardiac myocytes with Drs. A. Natali, Univ. Viscosa, Brazil (funded by CAPES-BR, £80k; J. Exp. Biol., 204, 1191, 2001).
3. Nonlinear analysis of experimental data during long term modulation of blood pressure control systems (TZ). The interaction of blood pressure control with hypoxic exercise and the validation of intermittent vibration or calf compression in ameliorating deep vein thrombosis during airflight are being pursued in collaboration with an industrial venture capitalist.
Monitoring of the cardiac and vascular systems is undertaken non-invasively by using state-of-the-art 2D and pulsed Doppler Ultrasound (Toshiba SA770, MIUS-UK) and beat-by-beat arterial blood pressure measurement (Portapres, TNO, Netherlands). It is planned to use microneurography to measure human afferent and efferent somato-sympathetic nerve traffic (with Dr. Shoemaker). Pulmonary / muscle oxygen kinetics are estimated using mass spectrometry and the NIRO500 unit.
Clinical and Applied Sport Science. Achievements using psychophysiological, neuromechanical and computational approaches in interdisciplinary studies of specific sports and diseases include:
1. Neuromechanical modeling and visuomotor control in soccer, tennis and cricket (DT/TZ/DC/JS). Funded by EPSRC and ESRC Industrial CASE awards, HEROBAC (£25k) for setup of SBKS Ltd. and in collaboration with Fulham FC, London. The co-ordinated, motor action sequences are complex and non-linear independent component analysis is identifying ways to increase natural ability and how injury may be reduced, via a report service for coaches (reviewed in J. Sports Sci., 18, 965, 2000).
2. Resolving interactions between fatigue, fluid intake and match ball size on tennis performance (JB/DC/PD). LTA funding has aided the redesign of Sports Dept. facilities and led to establishing a novel practical model that mimics actual prolonged match play (reviewed in ‘Tennis Science & Technology’, Eds. Haake & Coe. Blackwell Science, 2000 pp333-340; ISBN 0632-05638X).
3. Insulin resistance/Diabetes Mellitus: Defects of the glycogen synthesis pathway revealed by exercise (JB). Gene/protein expression and several kinase activities involved in the insulin signaling pathway are examined in order to further understand the disease aetiology (collaborations include Dr. G. Leese, Ninewells Hospital, Dundee; Dr. C. Sutherland, Univ. Dundee; Prof. S. Amiel, KCL).
4. Robot-aided Motor Learning (KM/DT/TZ/JS). The new robot-aided methods used in sensorimotor rehabilitation of stroke patients are being developed to enhance motor skill acquisition and learning in upper limb sports. Profs M. Jordan, R. Shadmehr (USA) and Dr. E Todorov (Inst. Neurology, UCL) are helping to steer the development of the "BioRobotic Motor Learning Centre“ as part of SESRG.
Arrangements for research scientist career development & research potential.
The School encourages new researchers to develop projects within the Research Themes under the guidance of Theme leaders, by reducing teaching loads and supporting pump-priming purchase of equipment. Recent examples include the support of SH (MSc, Leeds Metro. Univ.) for 17 weeks sabbatical leave in Canada and the support of JS (DPhil Oxford Univ.) in attending Computer Science Congresses (Paris 2000) and Workshops (SBU, Kingston Univ.) to develop Pattern Recognition Hardware and Software for notational analysis and robotics design. JS and PD have successfully bid for competitive SBU funding for equipment and MSc. / PhD research studentships (£120k). SESRG adheres to the Research Concordat overseen by the SBU Staff Development Unit. Particular points focused upon include trimonthly Mentor – Research Staff meetings and a structured appraisal scheme, which follows the Concordat directives. This support helps research scientists in planning their career paths and allows them to attend several training courses for workshops in research resource and personnel management (e.g. MildenHall, 2000; PD).
Main objectives for the next period.
The process of Theme development has set the scene for a consolidation of expertise and the blossoming of the research prowess of the newer members of SESRG. New equipment has propelled the initiation of significantly more research projects by individuals and teams. The SESRG has recently positioned itself to take advantage of external funding programmes for molecular medicine and sport-related clinical neurorehabilitation. Thus the objectives for the next period include:
1. Guide and develop the career potential of new research scientists (DC/PD/JS).
2. Target resources to utilize human genomics and proteomics to study both musculoskeletal cell signaling pathways and also neuromodulators of mood/fatigue such as serotonin and dopamine.
3. Develop tools for motor learning and rehabilitation using robot-aided neuromechanical models.
Self-evaluation of research plan in 1996.
The international profile of SESRG has been established via strategic use of competitively won external and SBU funding to generate a publication record. The significant number of completed PhDs highlights the attractive and productive research programme that has blossomed since 1996.