Meet Karyn Hamilton, Health and Exercise Science Professor

Health and Exercise Science research at Colorado State Universit

Karyn Hamilton, PhD, teaches health and exercise science at Colorado State University.

March is Women’s History Month, a time when women who have challenged—and continue to challenge—traditional roles are celebrated. In part four of our series, we introduce you to Karyn Hamilton, PhD, a professor in the Department of Health and Exercise Science at Colorado State University. (Read part one, part two and part three).

What is your title/role?

I am co-director of the Translational Research on Aging and Chronic Disease Laboratory at Colorado State University.

What’s your area of research?

We study aging—particularly the role of stress resistance, resilience, mitochondrial function and proteostasis in delaying aging and increasing health span. We have a deep interest in skeletal muscle aging, though we make measurements in many other tissue types.

How did you become interested in science? Were there women scientists who influenced you/you admired?

My first real interest in science started with food. Food was always a focus as a child, an athlete and finally as an undergraduate student in food and nutritional biochemistry. I never really noticed that women were underrepresented in science during my undergraduate training, probably because women have always been at the heart of food science and nutritional sciences. One example is Agnes Fay Morgan (1884–1968). Dr. Morgan, an influential scientist at UC-Berkeley, made important contributions to current knowledge about vitamins and health. She showed that pantothenic acid (vitamin B5) is essential for normal coloring of hair and skin by demonstrating that a diet deficient in the B vitamins resulted in depigmentation fox hair. This led to the graying pattern of the then-fashionable silver fox furs. When Dr. Morgan presented these data and accepted the Garvan Medal of the American Chemical Society in 1939, she wore two fox stoles: one from a control animal, which had a deep lustrous shiny black coat, and another dingy gray pelt from a vitamin-deficient animal that was half the size of the other!

I also admire a number of modern-day women in my field. Drs. Wendy Kohrt, Esther Dupont-Versteegden, Charlotte Peterson and Sue Bodine all serve as role models for me. Their rigorous approach to science, influential discoveries in the field of skeletal muscle physiology, and leadership and advocacy for women in science set them apart—not just as women in science, but as leaders in scientific excellence.

What do you like most about your job?

Three of my favorite parts are:

  • Collaboration: Pooling individual strengths into larger collaborations with greater resource availability, problem-solving, creativity, techniques and analytical approaches is vital and leads to discoveries with greater impact.
  • Innovation: It’s an important aspect of scientific inquiry, and the innovative approaches we develop in our lab foster paradigm-shifting research and drive new collaborations.
  • Teamwork: A “party of one” is far less enjoyable than a group sharing enthusiasm for a common goal.

    Women's history month design with multicultural hands

    Credit: iStock

What are your biggest challenges?

Juggling many responsibilities—all of which I want to fulfill to the very best of my abilities—and keeping the research team happy and cared for. Learning to mentor and respond to individual student needs is both challenging and rewarding.

What would you say to young girls with an interest in science/physiology? How would you encourage them to pursue their studies?

Girls [should] never learn that they have less of a chance of success in STEM compared to boys—or compared to their potential achievements in other fields. They should be free to choose what they find most interesting. Helping young people engage in fun STEM activities at an early age is important. Male and female mentors in the sciences are critical.

Erica Roth

 

 

Meet Sue Bodine, Physiology Professor

Sue Bodine

Sue Bodine, PhD, is a physiology professor at the University of California, Davis.

March is Women’s History Month, a time when women who have challenged—and continue to challenge—traditional roles are celebrated. In part three of our series, we introduce you to APS member and incoming editor-in-chief of the Journal of Applied Physiology, Sue C. Bodine, PhD. (Read part one and part two).

What is your title/role (including institution name)?

I am a professor of physiology at the University of California, Davis.

What’s your area of research?

I am a neuromuscular physiologist whose general field of study is skeletal muscle plasticity. My primary research interest is understanding the mechanisms that regulate skeletal muscle size under growth and atrophy conditions. I am also interested in understanding the molecular and cellular mechanisms responsible for muscle’s adaptation to exercise and inactivity and in determining the potential role for exercise in disease prevention and increased quality of life with aging.

How did you become interested in science? Were there women scientists who influenced you/you admired?

I was always interested in science as a high school student but had no exposure to basic research and could have never imagined getting a PhD. The truth is that prior to attending college, I had never met anyone with a PhD and had no idea of what was involved in getting a degree of that level.

I became interested in scientific research as an undergraduate student at UCLA, where I majored in kinesiology. I really enjoyed my lower-division anatomy and physiology courses. Once I started taking upper-division major courses, I was introduced to primary research studies and wanted to know more. I was fortunate that there were many opportunities to participate in research as an undergraduate student. I enjoyed research so much that I applied to the UCLA Departmental Scholars program, which enabled me to work on my bachelor’s and master’s degrees at the same time. It was a great opportunity that ultimately led to my decision to continue my graduate training as a doctoral student.

What do you like most about your job?

The thing I like most about my job is the discovery. Designing experiments and making new discoveries is very exciting. I don’t really see what I do as a job but rather as a career and an adventure. The other fun part of this career is that you get to meet interesting people from all over the world.

What is your biggest challenge?

The biggest challenge these days is maintaining funding to support the laboratory. It is a constant process.

What do you see as the main barriers to having more women in STEM?

Women's history month design with multicultural hands

Credit: iStock

I think that the major barrier to having more women in STEM is the culture. More effort needs to be directed toward bringing men and women together to discuss the current culture and how it needs to change to be inclusive and encouraging to everyone.

What would you say to young girls with an interest in science/physiology? How would you encourage them to pursue their studies?

I would encourage young girls to pursue their interests in science and tell them that their goals are obtainable with hard work. The road may have many hurdles, but with self-motivation, determination and perseverance you can be successful. You may need encouragement and help at times to be successful. I recommend finding friends and mentors who can provide support and good advice.

Erica Roth

 

Meet Sabrina Ramelli, Lung Biology Student

Sabrina Ramelli (2)

Sabrina Ramelli studies lung biology at the University of South Alabama.

March is Women’s History Month, a time when women who have challenged—and continue to challenge—traditional roles are celebrated. In part two of our series, we introduce you to APS member Sabrina Ramelli, a PhD student at the University of South Alabama. (Read part one here.)

What is your title/role?

I’m a PhD candidate at the University of South Alabama and a member of the Center for Lung Biology in the College of Medicine.

What’s your area of research?

My area of research is in lung biology, specifically asthma. I am looking for potential targets for hard-to-treat and steroid-resistant asthma.

How did you become interested in science? Were there women scientists who influenced you/you admired?

I have been interested in science for as long as I can remember. I never really had a woman scientist that I looked up to as a child, but I admired both my anatomy and chemistry teachers who were women. Being a student in their classes really solidified that just because I’m a girl doesn’t mean that I can’t do science. In fact, they were proof that women belong in the science world.

What do you like most about your job?

It’s very difficult to pinpoint one thing I like the most. I love the project that I am working on, and I really love the Center for Lung Biology program I am a part of. Although the program is demanding, I am a better scientist for it.

What is your biggest challenge?

My biggest challenge right now is determining what I want to do next [in my career]. There are so many options, it is hard to pick.

Women's history month design with multicultural hands

Credit: iStock

What do you see as the main barriers to having more women in STEM?

As a former high school teacher, [I think] the biggest barrier to having women in STEM is [the women] themselves. Many girls don’t want to be labeled the “science nerd” and, therefore, stop following their passion. Breaking down that stigma is only the beginning. After high school, women hear sexist statements and phrases like “women don’t belong in science” or “good old boys’ club.” We need to stand up and not allow this behavior to begin at a young age.

Erica Roth

Ida Henrietta Hyde: A Trailblazer in Physiology

 

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Ida Hyde at Heidelberg University, 1896.

March is Women’s History Month, a time when women who have challenged—and continue to challenge—traditional roles are celebrated. This month, the I Spy Physiology blog will introduce you to several female physiologists, starting with the first female member of APS, Ida Henrietta Hyde.

Ida Henrietta Hyde was born in 1857 in Davenport, Iowa, the daughter of German immigrants. She went to public school and took jobs as a dressmaker and milliner (a person who designs or sells women’s hats) to help support her family. After reading a book about natural science, she became fascinated with biology. This newfound interest in life sciences inspired her to save as much of her salary as possible so that she could go to college someday.

In 1882, Hyde started classes at the University of Illinois at Champaign but was soon forced to withdraw to help care for her sickly brother. During that time, she taught elementary school in Chicago, where she was instrumental in introducing a science curriculum to the Chicago public school system.

By the late 1880s, Hyde was able to return to college and went on to earn a degree in biological sciences from Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y. She worked in research at the Marine Biological Laboratory at Woods Hole in Massachusetts before traveling to Europe on a fellowship to pursue a PhD—something women were rarely able to do. Hyde’s early work centered on the neurophysiology of vertebrates and invertebrates, but she also conducted research in cardiology. Her article “The Effect of Distention of the Ventricle on the Flow of Blood through the Walls of the Heart” was published in the first issue of the American Journal of Physiology in 1898.

Women's history month design with multicultural hands

Credit: iStock

By 1902, Hyde was back in the U.S. and had become an associate professor of physiology at the University of Kansas. She eventually became head of the department and was nominated for APS membership in 1902. She was the only female member of APS until 1913. Today, APS is proud to count more than 3,100 women as members.

APS membership was just one of Hyde’s many accomplishments as a scientist and physiologist. Her landmark achievements paved the way for many more women who follow in her footsteps. Read more about her in The Physiologist.

Erica Roth

How Obesity Fuels Inactivity

 

Women jogging in Central Park New York

Credit: iStock

More than one in three adults and one in six children in the U.S. are obese. Obesity—defined as a serious degree of overweight—is a leading cause of death, disease and disability. Although obesity has been linked to genetic disorders, it is most often caused by unhealthy behaviors and, therefore, is preventable and reversible.

Throughout the day, we get calories from food and we burn the calories off when we move our bodies. When we eat more calories than we burn, our bodies store the excess calories as fat, which accumulates over time. Eating too many calories and not moving enough are two factors that can cause obesity. Only one in five adults in the U.S. meets minimum physical activity recommendations, making physical inactivity a significant contributor to obesity. People who are overweight need to eat fewer calories and/or increase physical activity to lose excess fat. These lifestyle changes are often challenging, and may be compounded by the fact that exercise may be harder to do when you’re obese.

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 The cycle of obesity. Credit: Kim Henige

Carrying excess body weight can make joint pain more likely, which makes physical activity more difficult. Now, researchers may have discovered another reason excess body weight makes physical activity more difficult. A recent study published in the Journal of Applied Physiology shows that the working muscles of obese mice tired out more quickly than those of lean mice. These findings support a cycle of obesity where inactivity leads to obesity, which leads to more inactivity. Breaking the negative cycle of obesity and re-establishing a healthy body weight is possible, but takes considerable dedication and persistence to overcome the barriers and discomfort of the process.

Remember that the path to a healthier weight starts by taking a step! Visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website for weight loss strategies, success stories of people who’ve lost weight and kept it off and more.

Kim HenigeKim Henige, EdD, CSCS, ACSM EP-C, is an associate professor and undergraduate program coordinator in the department of kinesiology at California State University, Northridge.

Go Ahead, Wear Your Heart on Your Sleeve!

Jousting Competition

A jousting knight wears his heart on his sleeve. Credit: iStock

In medieval times, a jousting knight would wear the colors of the lady he was courting tied around his arm. Hence, the phrase “Wear your heart on your sleeve” was born. Today, we use this romantic phrase to describe someone who expresses their emotions openly. How applicable that ancient phrase really is to maintaining a healthy heart!

In a landmark paper, a group of scientists discussed how stress and social interactions with others affected the health of the heart. It is well-known that stress is a major factor in the development of heart disease. This is because stress is a double whammy: It activates the “fight-or-flight” nervous response, and it causes inflammation in the cells that line blood vessels. Both of these events can damage blood vessels in the heart.

Research shows that positive social interaction expressing emotion is important for heart health. Support from a spouse or partner, friends or other groups can reduce stress and help you stick to a healthy diet and exercise program to minimize your risks.

Heart disease is the leading cause of death worldwide, with annual deaths creeping up to 24 million. Reducing stress and anxiety is an important aspect of keeping your heart healthy. Exercise, yoga, meditation and even deep breathing can promote a sense of calm when tensions mount. Try running or yoga with a friend or join an exercise class to keep you on track for a healthy heart. Go ahead, wear your heart on your sleeve—it’s good for you!

February is American Heart Month. You can find more information about keeping your ticker ticking on the American Heart Association’s website.

audrey-vasauskasAudrey A. Vasauskas, PhD, is an assistant professor of physiology at the Alabama College of Osteopathic Medicine.

When You Can’t ‘Spy’ with Your Eye Anymore

Senior Male With Macular Degeneration

Credit: iStock

Many of us take our ability to read this blog or see the faces of our families and friends for granted. For the 10–15 million Americans with a disease called age-related macular degeneration (AMD), however, the loss of this ability is a daily and devastating reality. AMD is the most common cause of blindness in people over the age of 60.

There are many causes of visual impairment, including near-sightedness, far-sightedness, infection and diabetes. Some of these can be relatively easily corrected with eyeglasses and other medical tools and procedures. AMD currently has no cure, and we are just beginning to understand its causes.

AMD is a gradual and progressive deterioration of the retina, the light-sensing tissue at the back of the eye. The disease affects the most sensitive portion of the retina called the macula. We use the macula to distinguish fine features and colors, and when we lose this function, it can be devastating. AMD slowly causes the photoreceptors—cells that make up the retina—to die, creating blank spots in the field of vision. This occurs when undigested deposits of molecular debris called drusen accumulate in an area that eventually starves the cells that support the photoreceptors.

Genetics is the main factor that makes you more likely to get AMD. Other causes may include smoking and an unbalanced diet. Avoiding smoking and making healthy dietary choices are good ways to reduce your risk of AMD. A recent study published in the journal Cell Stem Cell found that a substance related to vitamin B3 reduced molecular debris and inflammation related to AMD in patients with the disorder. Fish, meat, peanuts and green vegetables all contain vitamin B3.

As the U.S. population grows older, diseases such as AMD are likely to become more prevalent and have a higher social and economic burden than they did in the past. Researchers are actively working to better understand the causes of the disease and how to treat and prevent it.

February is Age-Related Macular Degeneration and Low Vision Awareness Month. If you haven’t had your eyes checked yet this year, now is a good time to make that appointment.

 

grant-kolarGrant Kolar, MD, PhD, is an assistant research professor of pathology and ophthalmology at Saint Louis University School of Medicine.

Microvesicles and Blood Vessels and Exercise, Oh My!

Swimming

Credit: iStock

The American Heart Association recommends that adults get at least 30 minutes of endurance exercise every day to keep your heart, lungs, and circulatory system healthy. A daily workout can help reduce your risk of developing diseases such as diabetes, heart disease and stroke. Endurance exercise is basically any activity that increases your breathing and heart rate for an extended period of time. Examples include:

  • brisk walking
  • jogging
  • dancing
  • biking
  • swimming
  • climbing stairs

During exercise, your blood vessels expand (dilate), increasing blood flow, and delivering more oxygen to your working muscles. Over time, exercise helps your blood vessels become more flexible. This flexibility allows the vessels to dilate more quickly to deliver blood and oxygen to your muscles. Long-term endurance exercise also increases the number of small blood vessels (capillaries) in your body. All of these things help carry more oxygen to your organs and remove waste more quickly. As a result, you can enjoy better athletic performance, such as being able to jog farther, run faster or swim longer distances.

A recent study in the American Journal of Physiology—Heart and Circulatory Physiology showed that endurance activity may help blood vessels grow by increasing the number of microvesicles in your blood. Microvesicles are small particles that are shed into your blood from all types of cells in your body. When volunteers in the study rode a stationary bicycle, they produced more microvesicles than when they were sitting and resting. The number increased even more when they pedaled faster. The researchers then added the volunteers’ microvesicles to endothelial cells—a type of cell that lines the blood vessels and is responsible for expanding and contracting them. They found that microvesicles caused endothelial cells to grow twice as fast. In other words, when you exercise, the number of microvesicles increases, which in turn helps your blood vessels grow.

Now you know why exercise builds a better circulatory system, so get moving!

Dao Ho, PhD

Dao H. Ho, PhD, is a biomedical research physiologist at Tripler Army Medical Center. The views expressed in this blog post are those of the author and do not reflect the official policy or position of the U.S. Department of the Army, U.S. Department of Defense or the U.S. government.

It’s a Bird, It’s a Plane, It’s Your Thyroid Gland!

 

Thyroid level conceptual meter

Credit: iStock

The thyroid gland—a small, butterfly-shaped gland found at the base of the neck—is the “Clark Kent” of endocrine organs. The thyroid’s actions are extremely powerful, but most people don’t know about its secret superpowers.

An endocrine organ releases substances called hormones into the bloodstream. These hormones are carried to other areas of the body where they have certain jobs to do. The thyroid gland makes hormones that affect many body parts, including bone, muscle, fat, skin, kidneys, and the brain (just to name a few). These hormones are also important for maintaining normal growth and proper metabolism—your body’s ability to convert food into energy.

If your thyroid gland is healthy, it usually means you’re at a healthy body weight and normal body mass index and have normal cholesterol.

People who have low thyroid hormone levels are often very tired, may be overweight and tend to feel cold. Those with higher-than-normal thyroid hormones can show signs of nervousness and heat intolerance and have significant and unintended weight loss.

The nutrient iodine is necessary for the thyroid gland to make thyroid hormones. This is why we have iodized salt: to provide enough iodine in our diet so that our thyroid works well.

January is Thyroid Awareness Month. Learn more about the signs and symptoms of an overactive or underactive thyroid from the American College of Endocrinology. Let’s keep our super thyroid gland super healthy!

audrey-vasauskasAudrey A. Vasauskas, PhD, is an assistant professor of physiology at the Alabama College of Osteopathic Medicine.

Go Ahead and Scratch … Your Brain Is Telling You To

Itchy and dry skin

Credit: iStock

Winter is here, and for much of the country, it’s going to stick around for a while. When exposure to frosty air and the constant hum of the heat pump continue for too long, you may end up with dry, itchy skin. We know that scratching an itch feels good, but why?

Researchers studied brain activity in two groups of volunteers. One group had chronic itching problems, and the other did not. The chronic itch group had more activity in the area of the brain involved with movement than the non-itchy group. This boost in activity means their brains were “wired” to scratch.

The non-itchy volunteers were then treated with an irritant that made their skin itch. The research team found that when the healthy volunteers scratched an itch, the reward center in the brain lit up. In other words, scratching feels good even if you don’t have a chronic skin condition.

Slathering yourself with moisturizer and drinking more water can help hydrate the skin—your largest organ—and keep winter itches at bay. But sometimes you just want relief from a good—yet gentle— scratch. Now you know that your brain is giving you permission to indulge.

Erica Roth