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Saturday, September 30, 2023

Academics & Research

Environmental chamber used in human body study

Associate professor Brian McFarlin | Daily Cougar file photo

The UH Department of Health and Human Performance is using an environmental chamber to study the ways in which the immune system is susceptible to hot and cold weather.

Associate professor Brian McFarlin and assistant professor Richard Simpson are the researchers behind this study.

According to a UH news release, the environmental chamber at the department’s Laboratory of Integrated Physiology resembles a giant cooler. The temperature and humidity can be widely adjusted in the 10-by-10 foot stainless steel room between 120 degrees and minus 4 degrees Fahrenheit.

Biothera, a biotechnology company that’s primary focus is to improve immune health, developed a product called Wellmune, an FDA-approved food additive. McFarlin said the company approached the department about doing a study to evaluate whether Wellmune could maintain immune function after exercise in the heat.

Researchers at the department are assisting the company in evaluating their product and its effects on athletes’ immune systems. The athletes’ blood and temperatures are monitored while they work out on stationary bikes in both sweltering and frigid environments.

“One of the focuses (of this study) is how the environmental stressors influence the immune system,” McFarlin said. “What we know is that if you compare exercising in a very hot or very cold environment, it creates certain disturbances in normal immune functioning.”

The study is intended to help evaluate the strain that elite athletes experience while training.

“We want to take people that exercise at a very high level like runners, cyclists, tri-athletes … this particular study did not use any intercollegiate athletes,” McFarlin said. “The study involved just local cyclists and tri-athletes from the area. Houston is a pretty good place to recruit those kind of people because the climate is ideal for that kind of training.”

The project was started in October of last year and wrapped up in late November. The department is currently evaluating the results of its study and plans to release a full conclusion in a month or two.

Biothera has conducted a couple of preliminary projects using individuals who work in extremely stressful fields. The company’s latest project involved firefighters.

“They showed that they are under a lot of stress, and the supplement tended to boost their immune response when it was incorporated into their diet,” McFarlin said.

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