Kinesiology Faculty, Students Share Research Findings at NEACSM Annual Conference

Sarah Witkowski

Kinesiology faculty, postdoctoral researchers and graduate students shared research findings at the New England Chapter of the American College of Sports Medicine’s (NEACSM) annual conference held Nov. 14-15 in Providence.

Assistant professor Sarah Witkowski appeared at the conference as an invited speaker. In a talk titled “Cells and Signals for Vascular Regeneration,” Witkowski discussed the pathological consequences of cardiometabolic diseases and physical inactivity on circulatory networks and the potential of exercise to alleviate dysfunction. Her work demonstrates the role of two novel cell types, circulating angiogenic cells and pericytes, and the importance of small chemicals released from these cells to influence blood vessel growth.

The symposium “Innovative Research that Crosses Disciplinary Boundaries,” organized by professor Barry Braun, featured talks by postdoctoral researchers Stephanie Jones and Allison Gruber, doctoral student Amanda Hickey, and recent doctoral graduate Stephen Foulis. The symposium presentations illustrated the approaches being taken by researchers who are melding expertise and methods across disciplinary boundaries to study physical activity and inactivity in the context of aging, disease and human performance. The symposium included the following talks:

Jones presented “Multiple Sclerosis: A Multifactorial Disease that Benefits from a Multidisciplinary Approach” in which she discussed recent research showing the interrelationship between balance, fatigue and mobility impairments in the multiple sclerosis population. Her lecture focused on current findings that integrate motor control, biomechanics and muscle physiology to understand the impact of impaired balance function on mobility.

Hickey presented a talk titled “How Do Objective Measures of Physical Activity and Sedentary Behavior Inform Our Understanding of Metabolic Health?” in which she emphasized the importance of using sophisticated analytical techniques to accurately and precisely measure exposure variables such as physical activity and sedentary behavior, when examining the relationships between these variables and outcomes related to metabolic health.

Foulis addressed “A Multifactorial Approach to Studying Physical Function in Older Adults.” His talk centered on why physical function, such as the ability to balance or get out of a chair, declines in older adults. Using an array of techniques, including measurements of physical activity, muscle function, muscle structure, and motor control, he is trying to better understand the mechanisms that lead to this decline.

Gruber spoke on “Energetic Consequences of Rearfoot and Forefoot Running Patterns” in which she discussed the hot-button topic of footstrike patterns in running. The forefoot running pattern, typically observed with barefoot running, has been advocated to improve running economy compared to the rearfoot pattern, but those claims have not been supported by empirical evidence. By taking an interdisciplinary approach, she combined the findings from metabolic and biomechanical studies to determine that the forefoot pattern may not confer the benefits that have been popularized in the media.

Kinesiology graduate students participated in the conference’s poster presentation sessions and Kate LaBarbera received the first place Doctoral Student Presentation Award for “The role of pericyte NF-kB activity on endothelial cell proliferation and cell-cell signaling.” Anisha Patel received the first place award in the Master’s Student Presentation Award category for her poster “The effects of ovariectomy on early markers of cardiac dysfunction.”