RESEARCH – Research group Human Physiology (MFYS)
The research in the Human Physiology research group is focused on ‘Exercise and the Brain in Health & Disease’ where the interaction of exercise on neurochemistry and neurophysiology is explored. The research is concentrated at 3 different levels:
- Fundamental – Physiological research
- Applied – Clinical research
- Benchmarking – Policy making research
Most of the research projects progress through these 3 levels, starting from fundamental studies (e.g. animal studies) through applied, clinical trials, which lead to benchmarking studies or to policy making advice.
Fundamental – Physiological research. At this fundamental level, animal and human experiments are combined, with measurements of neurotransmitters and the hormonal output from the brain during different manipulations. We perform fundamental research on the limits of fatigue, mechanisms of thermoregulation, and the positive effects of exercise on neurogenesis. The new research line on exercise and pollution and the brain also includes animal studies.
The Applied – Clinical aims at examining the value of the study findings of the fundamental research at the applied/clinical level. Again, all studies are within the area of exercise and the brain in health & disease. In general, the applied – clinical research is focused on studying exercise and training in different patient populations such as cardiovascular disease, obese, diabetes patients, sports injuries. Recently, the effects of exercise and pollution are integrated into the applied – clinical cluster, this way the health enhancing effects of ‘commuter cycling’ are weighed against air pollution. Linking brain research with pathologies such as obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease is established in collaboration with prof dr. Luc Van Loon (University of Maastricht, The Netherlands). Together we supervised a PhD project which now results in research on cognition, neurogenesis in diabetics, and the elderly person. The ongoing collaboration with dr. Elsa Heyman (University of Lille France) is in full support of this project. We are looking at cognitive aspects in type 1 diabetics.
In order to bring applied research in line with the Exercise & Brain research we created the ‘Lotto Sport Science Chair’. In a PhD project several aspects of performance and recovery are examined, focusing on brain mechanisms of fatigue and recovery. These experiments are linked with the control experiments from the Antarctica mission (2011-2012), and the project focusing on sleep & recovery, and the underlying neurophysiological aspects of recovery and (over)training (see refs. 20-21). Most of the applied sports research is in collaboration with the Australian Institute of Sport (AIS) looking at training & recovery. Sports Injury Prevention, especially neuromuscular aspects of injury prevention, are run together with prof dr. Evert Verhaegen (University of Amsterdam) and integrating sports injuries with fatigue, recovery and underlying neuromuscular mechanisms. In 2013 the ACSM-ECSS consensus statement on Overtraining was published. This is the ‘standard’ publication which is now accepted by the two largest sports science societies in the world (American College of Sports Medicine and the European College of Sport Science) - (publication January 2013).
Policy making research. The ‘Commuter Cycling’ research line investigates the effect of cycling for transportation on health in a broad prospective. In collaboration with VITO we examine the balance between the health enhancing effects of commuting by bicycle and exercising in busy traffic (polluted air). Bicycle accidents are analyzed in detail in adult and adolescent populations in order to advise policy makers how to create a safer and healthier environment.
Collaborations - partnerships
The Royal Military Academy (VIPER) is also a prominent partner, especially Dr. Nathalie Pattyn, who is an expert in psychophysiological aspects of stress, sleep and cognition. The study on confinement has led to an ESA grant ‘Mars 500’ on long duration isolation and the effect of exercise. This international project is run together with prof. dr. Maria Francesca Piacentini of the University of Rome – Foro Italico and the Sport university of Köln. The ESA-BELSPO sponsored ‘Antarctica project’ integrates the collaboration between several groups such as VITO – Sport University Köln – VIPER – MFYS VUB “ESA - Concordia”.
The close collaboration with the laboratory of pharmacology VUB (FASC) within the Centre for Neuroscience for the animal studies has proven to be an important factor in the research. An international collaboration with the research group of dr. Hasewaga (University of Hiroshima) was established .
In collaboration with VITO we examine the balance between the health enhancing effects of commuting by bicycle and exercising in busy traffic (polluted air).
Exploring brain mechanisms of fatigue not only involves neurotransmission but also supraspinal pathways, this is examined together with the dept. of Applied Biology of the Université Libre de Bruxelles (ULB).
Of special interest is the collaboration with the R&MM research group of the faculty of Engineering. This collaboration started with the ALTACRO project in which a substantial grant from the VUB serves to build a ‘rehabilitation robot’. It is our aim to convert and integrate this project into the ‘Exercise & Brain’ program. A first accomplishment is the recent successful EU grant application (FP7-ICT-2011-7) ‘Cyberlegs’. In this new project R&MM and MFYS are the VUB partners in building a ‘cognitive’ orthesis – a project that fully underscores the ‘Exercise and the Brain, in Health & Disease’ research line.
This ongoing collaboration resulted in the ‘Strategic Research pogram' @ VUB. ‘Exercise and the Brain in Health & Disease: The Added Value of Human-Centered Robotics’ focuses on integrating the expertise of the two VUB groups so that this specific multidisciplinary research can be performed. Furthermore, it will allow us to cross the conventional research borders, and develop a unique joint expertise within the consortium. An ‘SBO grant’ was obtained (KUL-VUB-UCL) ‘MIRAD’ (An integrated methodology to bring intelligent Robot Assistive Devices to the user).
Systematic coordinated logistical support for research
The third level of our research policy is concentrated on this aspect. MFYS tries to involve all levels of research in its projects (from fundamental physiology, through applied clinical research to benchmarking policy making research). The first inter-university spin-off between VUB & UGent Spartanova is a company that is specialized in bringing sport science technology (training & testing, injury prevention, training monitoring) from academia to end users (sport scientist, sport physiotherapists, trainers, coaches and athletes).