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Student research in Health Sciences

It is not just our staff who are working on research, in the department of Health Sciences we have a number of ongoing research projects involving our postgraduate research students and graduate interns.

Exercise and Nutrition Interventions in Age-related Sarcopenia

Researchers: Mr Ben Kirk (PhD), Ms Kate Mooney (PhD), Dr Farzad Amirabdollahian and Dr Omid Alizadehkhaiyat

With ever-increasing life expectancy among older adults, Sarcopenia; the age-related loss of muscle mass, strength, and physical functioning, has received growing research attention. The ageing process of muscle, affects human function through loss of skeletal muscle mass, strength, and power and hence reducing the functional capacity of older individuals. This limits the ability of performing everyday tasks such as stair climbing, chair rising, and carrying groceries leading to markedly diminished quality of life. In addition, the age-related decline in physical functioning is associated with debilitating health issues in terms of disability, morbidity and mortality. Hence, sarcopenia places an ever-growing financial burden on the community services, NHS in particular. Of various interventions suggested for combating sarcopenia, limited existing evidence only supports exercise- and nutrition-related remedies. Hence, the objective of this study is to generate a comprehensive understanding of multidimensional health benefits of selected exercise and nutrition interventions on musculoskeletal function, nutritional status and quality of life in elderly adults.

This randomised, controlled trial will be conducted in the new laboratories of School of Health Sciences, Liverpool Hope University, and recruiting healthy older adults (>60 yrs) from the community. An array of measurements will be used to evaluate key components of physical, psychological, nutritional, metabolic and health-related quality of life factors, before and after, either individual or combined exercise and nutrition interventions. Key measurements will include body composition, physical performance, nutritional status, metabolic biomarkers, cardiovascular health, functional capacity and fitness level, muscles strength and power, muscle fatigue, mental status, and quality of life. All above measures are frequently and safely used within the research setting with minimal discomfort and risk. The study aims to produce compelling evidence of the multidimensional health benefits of exercise and nutrition on sarcopenia; to healthy ageing and enhance quality of life among the ageing population.

Registered clinical trial pages:

Clinical Trial

In the Media:

The Guardian

Health Business 

Contact information:

If you would like to hear updates about this research, you can keep up to date by following the team on Facebook and Twitter.

For more information, you can contact Ben and Kate directly at the following: 

E: kirkb@hope.ac.uk 

E: mooneyk@hope.ac.uk.

The effect of vibration on Shoulder Muscle Activation and Fatigue

Researchers: Miss Jessica McMahon, Dr Omid Alizadehkaiyat, Mr David Hawkes and Mr Ian Horsley.

Does vibration alter the activation of shoulder girdle muscles during upper limb exercises? Does vibration induce earlier activation of the rotator cuff muscles? Does the soft tissue massage effect of vibration enhance muscle recovery from fatigue?

We explore the effects of vibration on shoulder muscle activation during common rehabilitation exercises and the effects of vibration on recovery from fatigue. Using the principles of whole body vibration (WBV)/acceleration training, which was first introduced to combat the negative effects of a zero gravity environment, we stimulate a rapid reflexive response (R3) in the muscles via the proprioceptors that increases nerve communication to and from the CNS.

How it works?

The vibration creates micro-moments of instability within the body that induces an involuntary activation of the muscles (R3) via the tonic vibration reflex (TVR) (Vibration induced activation). WBV training is done on a vibration platform that either oscillates side to side or vertically vibrates at given frequencies and amplitudes. Vibration is transferred to the body via standing on the platform or through accessories such as hand straps.

Participants are required to attend one 2-hour session in the biomechanics labs (Health Science Building). Electromyography (EMG) will be used during the session to measure the shoulder muscle activity/fatigue during selected exercises. Participants will gain knowledge about the use of whole body vibration training for both recovery and performance that they will be able to utilize in the future. Voluntary participation will contribute to a research project that is collaborated with the EIS (English Institute of Sport) in which the results may help enhance training rehabilitation programs for athletes.

Contact information

For more information on this project, please contact Dr Alizadehkaiyat directly at the following: 

E: alizado@hope.ac.uk.

Examining the spatiotemporal disruption to gaze when using a myoelectric prosthetic hand

Researchers: Mr Johnny Parr (PhD), Gavin Buckingham, Dr Greg Wood, Sam Vine, Pan Dimitriou and Sarah Day.

Prosthetic hand devices are often poorly utilised and frequently rejected. High rejection rates have been attributed to the high cognitive burden that these devices impose on the user. Here, we investigated the nature of this burden by simultaneously examining gaze behaviour and EEG coherence between the verbal-analytical (T7) and motor planning (Fz) regions in able-bodied participants using a prosthetic hand simulator.

Twenty participants were required to perform 30 trials of the “lifting a heavy object” task from the Southampton Hand Assessment Procedure (SHAP) using their anatomical hand and a myoelectric prosthesis simulator. During performance, gaze behaviour was recorded to determine the spatial (target locking strategies) and temporal (gaze-shifting) characteristics of visual attention. EEG was also recorded to compute T7-Fz coherence for the high-alpha (10-12Hz) bandwidth to determine the extent of conscious movement control during the reaching and grasping phases of the task. Participants were significantly slower, used more hand-focused gaze and exhibited significant delays in the time to disengage vision from hand movements when using the prosthetic simulator. These disruptions were multiplied during the manipulation of the jar.

The dependence on vision during the manipulation phase coincided with increased T7-Fz coherence, suggesting conscious movement control during this movement phase. Findings suggest a link between increased visual attention and verbal-analytical processing is related to the cognitive burden associated with prosthetic hand rejection. These metrics can now be used to test the efficacy of rehabilitation strategies and may inform hand prosthesis design.

Contact information

For more information on this project, please contact Johnny directly at the following:

E: parrj@hope.ac.uk

Investigating the Nutritional Requirements of Elite Gaelic Footballers

Researchers: Mr Luke O'Brien (PhD) and Dr Farzad Amirabdollahian.

Gaelic Football is a high intensity intermittent field based sport and it is one of the most popular sports played in Ireland. Despite its popularity very little research exists on the nutritional status of elite Gaelic football players.

Due to a lack of research, nutritional recommendations must be interpreted from studies carried out in other team sports. Physiological requirements of Gaelic football places heavy demands on energy, the limited amount of nutritional studies regarding Gaelic footballers suggest that their energy intake is insufficient and they are at the lower end of recommended carbohydrate intakes which could be detrimental to training adaptations, performance and overall health.

This project will provide an in-depth investigation into the nutritional status of elite Gaelic footballers, it will examine dietary intake and energy expenditure during a competitive week and also assess hydration status pre and post training. This novel evidence will provide GAA managers, coaches and nutritionists with valuable information regarding elite Gaelic football player’s energy, macronutrient, micronutrient and fluid requirements. Also to date there is no field based or laboratory based exercise protocol that simulates the activity patterns of an elite Gaelic football match. Many of these protocols exist in other sports, therefore another aim of this project is to create a valid and reliable exercise protocol that replicates match play demands of elite Gaelic footballers. This will be an excellent tool that will be used to evaluate the efficacy of different nutritional intervention strategies on Gaelic football performance.

Research questions/objectives

  • To determine if current energy and macronutrient intake of elite Gaelic football players meets the current recommendations for team sport athletes in the literature.
  • To investigate energy balance in Gaelic footballers by comparing accurate energy intake against a valid method of energy expenditure.
  • To assess micronutrient intakes of elite Gaelic footballers and compare to current guidelines.
  • To investigate energy and macronutrient intake of pre and post exercise meals and explore if this is in line with the latest recommendations.
  • To create a valid and reliable exercise protocol that mimics the activity patterns of an elite Gaelic football match.
  • Use the above exercise protocol to test the efficacy of different nutritional intervention strategies on Gaelic football performance.

Contact information

For more information about this project, you can contact Luke directly at the following:

E: obrienl@hope.ac.uk

T: 0151 291 3815

Examining the efficacy of Imagery and Observation Interventions on Motor Performance Using Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation

Researchers: Ms Stephanie Romano-Smith (PhD), Dr Caroline Wakefield and Dr Greg Wood.

Motor imagery (MI) and action observation (AO) are techniques, which have been shown to be effective in the enhancement motor skill learning. Both of these techniques have been used independently, and often in combination with physical practice. More recently, research has begun to employ combined AO and MI to investigate the potential effects on motor skill learning. However, varying combinations of these two skill learning techniques is a relatively under-researched area. This study examined a combined AO and MI approach on a target based sport task.

Participants (n=50) were randomly allocated to one of five training groups: video action observation (AO), PETTLEP-based motor imagery (MI), simultaneous imagery and observation, (SIO), alternative imagery and observation (AIO) and a control group. Pre and post-test performance was measured using a dart throwing target task. Imagery instructions and supplementary videos were supplied where necessary and interventions were conducted three times per week for six weeks. A one-way ANOVA revealed no significant differences in pre test scores (p>.05). A repeated measures ANOVA revealed a significant difference in post-test scores [F(4,45)=6.04, p<.05], with MI, SIO, and AIO groups showing an improvement from pre-test to post-test. AO and control groups did not improve significantly from pre-test to post test. Furthermore, SIO group improved to a significantly greater degree than the MI and AIO groups. These findings have important implications for the design of motor learning strategies, as encouraging performers to simultaneously conduct imagery and observation may be the optimal method for motor stimulation.

Contact information

For more information on this project, please contact Stephanie at the following:

E: romanos@hope.ac.uk

T: 0151 291 3815

The Influence of Kinetic Chain Sequencing on Throwing Performance in Athletes with and without Shoulder Injury

Researchers: Mr Liam Owens (PhD), Professor Mehmet Dorak, Associate Professor Omid Alizadehkhaiyat and Dr Ginny Coyles.

The prevalence of shoulder injuries have been widely documented, with a high prevalence in overhead throwing sports. Shoulder injuries contribute to approximately 10% of all athletic injuries and this can be attributed to the importance of throwing at high speed as this usually influences the outcome in a number of sports. The Kinetic Chain plays an important role within overhead throwing action, involving the transfer of energy in a sequence from the lower body, through the muscles of the core and into the upper body. Due to the intense nature of maximal throwing, breakdowns in this sequence are common. The forces that result can put excessive strain on the shoulder joint and due to its’ anatomical make-up, can result in an injury or failure. Common injuries include Shoulder Instability, Shoulder Impingement and Rotator Cuff Tear. These injuries are common across a number of overhead throwing sports, namely Handball and Baseball.

Therefore, the main aim of this study is to identify muscle activation patterns in combination with kinematic sequencing of movement in overhead athletes. The main focus will be identify differences in this sequencing pattern between athletes who have had a shoulder injury in their throwing shoulder previously and athlete who have no shoulder injury prevalence.

The study aims to investigate differences in overhead throwing between injured and non-injured athletes, as well as the key muscle activation patterns involved in numerous rehabilitation exercises for shoulder injury. From the study, recommendations regarding differences in overhead throwing mechanics and relationships for exercise provision will be targeted. The potential to quantify the effectiveness of rehabilitation exercise provision will allow a prehabilitative outlook to be formed for minimising shoulder injury prevalence.

Contact information

To find out more about this project, you can contact Liam directly at:

E: owensl2@hope.ac.uk

T: 0151 291 3442

Twitter: @LiamOwensHope

Physiological determinants of exercise tolerance and critical power in health and disease

Researchers: Mr Richie Goulding (Phd), Dr Denise Roche and Dr Simon Marwood.

?The ability to tolerate high-intensity exercise is an important determinant of health-related quality of life, functional capacity, and longevity. It is therefore vital to develop a detailed physiological understanding of what enables humans to perform and sustain high-intensity, whole-body exercise. These physiological “determinants” of exercise tolerance remain largely unresolved, however.

An important measure that is related to the ability to perform high-intensity exercise is called “critical power”. Critical power is an important physiological fatigue threshold, and separates work rates that are sustainable for only short periods of time from those that are sustainable for longer, prolonged periods of time. However, the key physiological factors that determine critical power are currently unresolved.

One other physiological factor that has previously been shown to be related to the critical power is the time course (i.e. the “kinetics”) of oxygen uptake following the onset of exercise. Whether this relationship is causal, however, remains to be determined. Additionally, previous research has also shown that oxygen delivery to the active muscles during exercise may mediate this relationship. The goal of my research, therefore, is to variously alter oxygen delivery and oxygen uptake kinetics at the onset of exercise, and assess the impact that this has on critical power. We hope that this will give us information on whether these relationships are indeed causal, and if they are, what the relative contributions of each of these variables (or other, as yet unknown variables) are in determining critical power.

It is hoped that this research will give important information on the physiological determinants of critical power, and thus by extension, exercise tolerance and fatigue. Once we have a greater understanding of the factors that limit exercise tolerance and cause fatigue, we will be better equipped to design interventions that can improve exercise tolerance in populations where this is impaired, and thus improve quality of life.

Contact information

If you would like to hear more about this project, please contact Richie directly at the following:

E: gouldir@hope.ac.uk

T: 0151 291 3815