Professors put working out under the microscope in PEB

Professors put working out under the microscope in PEB

April 15
09:21 2014

Joshua Knopp // Senior Staff Writer

How much energy can cells spend without oxygen? Can working out help fight HIV?

At UNT’s Applied Physiology Laboratory, researchers are able to put these and other questions to the test. Kinesiology, health and recreation professors Jakob Vingren, David Hill and Brian McFarlin, along with more than 10 doctoral and master’s students, capture data and study the human body at extreme conditions.

The lab, located on the bottom floor of the Physical Education Building, holds a small collection of weight training equipment and treadmills, masks to control oxygen intake and measure exhalation, and a full blood lab and equipment to take and test muscle samples. The first floor is lined with research from the lab, some of which is ongoing.

“We always look at the acute or long-term effects of exercise and how to measure those effects,” Hill said. “Exercise is a part of every test we do, and then we throw confounding factors in.”

Each of the main research professors has a specialized interest. Hill measures the amount of oxygen that goes in and out of the body during exercise and how much energy was provided by aerobic respiration, which is not as simple as it sounds.

“The difficulty is in estimating the total amount of energy used,” he said.

Hill said there are two main questions – does the body’s need for energy go up at a consistent level when the speed increases, or does energy become harder to generate? And does the demand for energy stay constant in a severe intensity exercise, or does the body get used to a high level of activity?

Vingren has devoted much of his studying energy looking at how exercise affects HIV and trying to determine if testosterone is the real culprit behind muscle growth.

“Some of the pathways exercise affects are the same things HIV and alcohol affect in the opposite direction,” Vingren said. He pointed to recent film “Dallas Buyer’s Club,” in which the AIDS-infected main character suffers severe muscle wasting, as a good example of what he’s talking about.

A 2012 study of 17 HIV-positive men in treatment for substance abuse supported resistance training as a standard treatment method for men in those conditions.

Vingren is one of a number of researchers who question testosterone’s real affect on muscle growth. Vingren said there is always a spike in testosterone after resistance exercise. It is assumed that spike is what causes growth, but Vingren thinks there could be other factors at play.

“I believe the testosterone response does have an important impact. Of course, it is not the only factor,” he said. “There is still a lot of work to be done in this area to have a more definitive answer.”

Lastly, McFarlin’s studies for the past several years have focused mainly on beta glucan, a molecule found in baker’s yeast. One of his most recent studies found that beta glucan can reduce symptoms of upper respiratory tract infections.

McFarlin said the lab’s technology was a help to his research.

“We have a fully functional immunology laboratory that includes state of the art capabilities to measure cellular changes,” he said. “To our knowledge, we are the only facility in the DFW area that has access to these types of instruments.”

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