Researchers study brain blood flow during concussion recovery
Researchers at the University of British Columbia’s Okanagan campus have launched a ground-breaking study examining how blood flow to the brain is altered in athletes recovering from sports concussions.
The Integrative Sports Concussion Research Group (ISCRG) focuses on young athletes, whose involvement in their respective sports has been curtailed due to head injury. Over the next year, faculty and students from UBC’s School of Health and Exercise Sciences are conducting an examination of up to 90 recently concussed athletes aged 14 to 25, in conjunction with Lifemark Health Sports Medicine Clinic in Kelowna.
“Concussion is a very common condition that is treated by many sport physicians. Yet there are many aspects about this condition that are poorly understood,” says Paul van Donkelaar, principal investigator of the research project called Exercise following concussion: do disruptions to cerebral autoregulation underlie executive function deficits.
Currently, concussed athletes are assessed and their recovery is often based on exacerbation of symptoms like headaches, dizziness, nausea and fatigue as measured on a graded exercise protocol on a stationary bike. Traditionally, once a patient remains symptom free for a period, they will be cleared for contact at practices and, in time, for a full return to sport following clinical assessments.
UBC’s research will challenge how the results of those assessments are achieved. The aim of the study is to generate data needed to identify physiological and cognitive markers associated with post-concussion syndrome.
Health researchers reached for top of the world on Everest expedition
The experiments are over and now the discovery, analysis and findings are the focus of a pioneering research project designed to investigate the effects of chronic oxygen deprivation and distribution of blood flow through the heart, lungs and brain at high altitudes.
The School of Health and Exercise Sciences at UBC’s Okanagan campus sent a 25-member team of international scientists on a six-week research expedition last April and May to Everest’s Pyramid laboratory. The fully equipped scientific facility – at 5,050 metres – is three miles above sea level and more than half-way up the world’s tallest mountain, which tops out at 8,848 metres.
“Research at high altitude provides an excellent means to examine physiological adaptation to chronic reductions in the pressure of oxygen,” says expedition leader Philip Ainslie, Canada Research Chair in Cerebrovascular Function in Health and Disease, principal investigator and associate professor in the School of Health and Exercise Sciences. “Results of the studies have the potential to substantially improve our understanding of biological adaptation to chronic hypoxia.”
Hypoxia – which can severely decrease oxygen delivery to the brain – and reduced blood flow to the vital organs are characteristic of many chronic conditions, including heart attack, stroke and respiratory failure. Researchers hope to adapt experiment results for further clinical studies with the goal of devising new methods of prevention and treatment.
The study, titled Integrative physiological adaptation to high-altitude: a scientific expedition to explore mechanisms of human adaptation encompasses eight separate experiments ranging from cerebrovascular, cardiopulmonary, and neurocognitive health to measuring the effects of acute mountain sickness and sleep apnea.
New faculty members
- Jonathan Little, assistant professor, exercise metabolism; post-doctoral fellow, biology, UBC’s Okanagan campus; PhD McMaster University.
- Chris McNeil, assistant professor, neuromechanics; post-doctoral fellow, neuroscience research Australia; PhD, Western University
- Alison McManus, associate professor, childhood health; Hong Kong University; PhD, Exeter University
- Neil Eves was recently promoted to associate professor with tenure.