What might the Sherpa at the Everest base camp in Nepal or world-record setting breath-hold divers in Croatia tell us about people who live with respiratory or heart disease or have had a stroke?
According to researchers at the UBC Okanagan Centre for Heart, Lung and Vascular Health, the answer is a lot. They can study, for example, how a high-altitude, low-oxygen environment or holding one’s breath for an extended time induces hypoxia—a state of low-level oxygen in our blood—which in turn affects things like blood flow and heart function.
By studying these mechanisms in high-performance athletes or well-adapted, often indigenous, populations, they can better understand how these same mechanisms are impacted by chronic diseases. The end goal, of course, is to help prevent, diagnose and treat these diseases in all populations, high or low altitude.
This month marks 10 years of the centre conducting field studies such as these, training the next generation of scientists and clinicians, and translating world-leading research to partners and industry where it can make a difference to people’s lives.
Not an actual ‘bricks and mortar’ space, the centre is rather comprised of 10 labs, with principal investigators leading teams of graduate trainees and post-doctoral fellows. About 55 people make up the centre today, with more than $4 million in cutting-edge equipment and research infrastructure.
“The research conducted in the labs includes integrative systems physiology across the lifespan, translational and comparative research, population health and clinically focused research in heart, lung, metabolic and cerebrovascular diseases,” says Dr. Neil Eves, who co-directs the centre with Dr. Phil Ainslie. “Students get exposed to this whole spectrum, which rounds out their training in whatever career path they eventually choose.”
“The biggest metric of the centre’s success is the careers of the students,” adds Dr. Ainslie. “They’ve been awarded a raft of the best scholarships and national awards, they bring a vibrancy, excitement, and competitiveness to the centre, and they go on to do great things, whether in research, industry or healthcare, or combination of those.”
Drs. Ainslie and Eves, and their centre counterparts have also developed links and collaborations with colleagues at laboratories, research centres and institutes around the world, with many accepting invitations to the centre to perform research or its biennial symposium held at Silver Star Mountain Resort.
“Beyond reading the published research of these world-leading scientists, centre students actually get to meet them, ask them questions and learn about state-of-the-art techniques,” Dr. Ainslie says.
For the upcoming 10-year anniversary, students will have just such an opportunity. The centre will welcome professor Vaughan Macefield, head of the Human Autonomic Neurophysiology Lab at the Baker Heart and Diabetes Institute in Melbourne, Australia. Macefield is renowned for developing a method of recording the activity of sympathetic nerves. Recently, he made the first microelectrode recordings from the human vagus nerve, which helps control our heart rate and blood pressure, among other vital functions.
His public lecture, Nerves, the Brain and All that Jazz, will examine the role of the brain in the development of high blood pressure induced by cognitive or emotional stress. Partners, colleagues and members of the public are welcome to attend a reception and the public lecture the evening of Wednesday, Nov. 23, at Sandhill Wines. Register for your free virtual ticket at Centre for Heart, Lung and Vascular Health—Celebrating 10 Years.
“At its heart the centre has always been about trying to establish links with the community and industry partners to ensure we translate our research into the prevention and treatment of chronic diseases,” says Dr. Eves. “We welcome the community to celebrate the past decade’s achievements and to look forward to our continued growth as an internationally recognized centre of excellence here in the Okanagan.”
This article is written by or on behalf of the sponsoring client and does not necessarily reflect the views of Okanagan Edge.
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