Taking Sports Science to the Extremes; Health Reporter HELEN RAE Takes a Look at a North East University's Pioneering Research into Heart and Respiratory Illnesses

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RESEARCH into cardiovascular and respiratory diseases could be progressed thanks to a new piece of equipment at a Tyneside university. An environmental chamber in the Department of Sport and Exercise Sciences at Northumbria University is able to simulate lowoxygen environments such as those found at high altitudes which cause a similar response to conditions the body faces when suffering from heart and respiratory conditions.

Professors Kevin Thompson and Alan St Clair Gibson in the School of Life Sciences put forward a plan to house the pounds 200,000 chamber which was supported by the university and has been project managed by Dr Glyn Howatson, lab director and associate director for sport research.

Dr Howatson said: "With this facility, we can simulate conditions akin to symptoms experienced with clinical conditions, such as shortness of breath in able-bodied people to allow us to examine their physiological responses.

"This facility offers numerous implications to a number of clinical which have applications to health and medicine. "In this state-of-the-art facility we can put people under excessive physical stress and observe how the body functions and test potential interventions to see if they combat the problems.

"For example, we are able to create a high altitude environment where the oxygen content is reduced and examine how different nutritional or pharmacological interventions might help improve oxygen delivery and efficiency to the critical organs and structures that are vital in maintaining bodily function."

The chamber, which is one of only a handful in the country and the only one in the region, can simulate almost any environment on the earth''s surface.

It can create environments ranging from -20C to 40C, with humidity at up to 95%.

By altering the oxygen content in the room, the effects of altitude as high as the summit of Mount Everest can be simulated.

Dr Howatson added: "The chamber is essentially a hi-tech 'walk-in fridge' but it''s an impressive instrument that makes a huge addition to the research, consultancy and teaching portfolio of the university that really puts the region and Northumbria on the map."

The chamber can be used in a variety of applications, in addition to research and teaching.

These include the acclimatisation of sports people before competing in different parts of the world and the testing of equipment for emergency services who often work in extreme environments.

Anyone interested in collaborating to use the chamber on a research or consultancy basis is asked to contact Dr Howatson at Northumbria University on 0191 227 3575.

Meanwhile, people will this week have the opportunity to see state-of-the-art labs at Northumbria University''s pounds 30m Sport Central as Northumbria hosts an event as part of this year''s Newcastle Science Festival, which runs until Thursday. An event entitled Body in Action - Where''s the Science in Sports Science?, will allow participants to find out at first hand about how sport and exercise scientists unlock the potential in athletes to perpathologies form to their limits.

Visitors will gain an insight into how scientists use the leading edge equipment to analyse athletes'' performance and even test their own fitness, power and strength.

The workshops are running until 8pm tonight.

The new laboratories offer a direct positive enhancement to teaching and learning, research and consultancy work at the university with a greater focus on the subjects of biomechanics, nutrition, physiology, neuroscience and performance analysis.

Prof Kevin Thompson, head of department of sport and exercise sciences and co-director of the Sport, Exercise and Wellbeing Research Centre in the School of Life Sciences, said: "The technology built into all the laboratories exposes our students to experience most facets of sports and exercise science that goes on in the wider world. …