Human Physiology and Sports Physiotherapy Research Group
The research group MFYS explores the interaction of exercise on neurochemistry and neurophysiology. The research is concentrated at several levels: Fundamental – Physiological research; Applied – Clinical research and 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 could lead to benchmarking studies or to policy making advise.
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 (see relevant refs ‘Exercise & Brain Neurotransmission’). We perform fundamental research on the limits of fatigue, mechanisms of thermoregulation (see relevant refs ‘Exercise Performance and the Brain), the positive effects of exercise on neurogenesis (see relevant refs ‘Exercise & Neurogenesis’), and the effects of exercise and pollution and the brain also included animal studies (see relevant refs ‘Exercise, Pollution & the Brain’).
The Applied – Clinical research 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 obese, diabetes patients (see relevant refs ‘Exercise, Diabetes & the Brain’), sports injuries and performance (see relevant refs ‘Exercise & Sports). Recently, the effects of exercise and pollution are integrated into the applied – clinical cluster, this way the health enhancing effects of ‘commuter cycling’ are outweighed against air pollution (see relevant refs ‘Exercise, Pollution & the Brain’).
Fundamental and applied research is performed in an ongoing collaboration with the R&MM research group of the faculty of engineering. Together we obtained a Strategic Research Program – VUB, in which Exercise, the Brain and the added value of Robotics are studied (see also collaboration).
Since several years the research group is involved in ESA sponsored research. The first paper after the ‘Mars 500’ project was published in 2013 (ref 5,6). Several Antarctica missions (ref 7,8), were performed, and prof N. Pattyn is currently the medical research officer of a British mission on the Halley research basis. These experiments are linked with the control experiments from the Antarctica mission (ref 7,8), and the project focusing on sleep & recovery.
In order to bring applied research in line with the Exercise & Brain research we created the ‘Lotto Sport Science Chair’. This ‘chair’ was renewed in 2014 and a second PhD project is ongoing. This research project examines several aspects of performance and recovery, focusing on brain mechanisms of fatigue and recovery, including nutritional interventions (e.g. refs 13-21). In 2013 R. Meeusen was the leading author of a joint consensus statement on ‘overtraining’ of the 2 leading world organizations on sports medicine and sport science (European College of Sport Science – ECSS and American College of sports Medicine – ACSM) (ref 45-56) (see relevant refs ‘Exercise, Overreaching, Overtraining’). Most of the applied sports research is in collaboration with the Australian Institute of Sports looking at training & recovery. Sports Injury Prevention, especially neuromuscular aspects of injury prevention, is run together (see relevant refs ‘Exercise & Sports) with the University of Amsterdam and integrates sports injuries with fatigue, recovery and underlying neuromuscular mechanisms. Also in 2014 an extensive experiment was performed on an ‘ecological method’ to induce extreme exercise induced fatigue - overtraining (Tour for Life AMBRURO), an international project with UAmsterdam, Utrecht and Rome.
Benchmarking or policy supporting research. The interuniversity spin-off with the University of Ghent ‘Spartanova’ is an on-line application of training and testing in athletes, together with injury prevention and talent detection.
The strategy followed by MFYS is based on solid collaboration with several national and international groups.
Of special interest is the collaboration with the R&MM research group of the faculty of Engineering (MECH). This collaboration started with the ALTACRO project in which a substantial grant from the VUB goes to the building of a ‘rehabilitation robot’ (e.g. ref. 38, 58-62). This ongoing collaboration resulted in the ‘Strategic Research Program’ at the VUB: ‘Exercise and the Brain in Health & Disease: The Added Value of Human-Centered Robotics’ focuses on at integrating the expertise of the two VUB groups so that the 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. In line with this collaboration the FP7 project Cyberlegs started in February 2012. “Cyberlegs plus plus” the follow up of this EU project will be submitted April 2015.
With Horizon 2020 it is clear that our strong research consortium will try to be involved in several European projects (negotiations on grant submission are ongoing). IN 2014 we obtained an Horizon 2020 grant “SCAFFY” (MSCA-RISE project).
Historically MFYS has a strong collaboration with several groups :
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 a Japanese group (University of Hiroshima) was established following a 2 year post-doc fellowship of Hiroshi Hasegawa at the dept. This allows a continuation of this animal research line (see refs 4, 12, 16).
Linking brain research with pathologies such as obesitas, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease is established in collaboration with 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 (see relevant refs ‘Exercise, Diabetes & the Brain’).
The ongoing collaboration with dr Elsa Heyman (University of Lille France) has resulted in a ‘dual PhD’ for Dr Cajsa Tonoli, we obtained a TOURNESOL travel grant. We are looking at cognitive aspects in type 1 diabetics (see ref. 48-52). In 2014-2015 prof Danusa Diaz Soares from the Laboratório de Fisiologia do Exercício - LAFISE Belo Horizonte Brazil is doing her sabattical in MFYS. This has led to the submission of several research project (also together with the university of Maastricht, and Lille).
There is an ongoing collaboration with VITO. With this group, we examine the balance between the health enhancing effects of commuting by bicycle and exercising in busy traffic (polluted air). We explore the medical and cognitive effects of cycling in polluted air (see refs 30-36). Also together with VITO and the Universade federal de Sao Paulo, we run a project that explores the effects of air pollution on the health and cognition of active people, athletes and elderly (e.g. ref. 30-36).
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) (Prof Jacques Duchateau). The Royal Military Academy (VIPER) is also a prominent partner, especially through 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 the university of Rome and the Sport university of Köln (see ref 5,6). Data processing from the ESA South Pole experiments is ongoing. This ‘Antarctica project’ integrates the collaboration between several groups such as VITO – Sport University Köln – VIPER – MFYS VUB “ESA - Concordia”.