Exercise science students assist in NASA-funded research

Marshall University students in the Department of Exercise Science have had the opportunity to explore age and sex differences in skeletal muscles in mice through a NASA-funded grant project that aims to measure energy levels and provide customized care for injury recovery.

Dr. Kumika Toma, principal investigator for the grant and director of the undergraduate exercise science program, said she began this research in 2014 as part of a NASA-funded project in space biology and medicine that measured how microgravity would impact crew members on extended missions.

"I received the first grant (NNX13AN08A) in 2014 and applied for additional funding, which focused on providing educational experiences to high-achieving students interested in STEM areas," Toma said. "These students will finish up their research this summer on sex and age differences in skeletal muscles by conducting experimentation that will measure physical inactivity in mice."

Exercise science students Austin Pinardo, 20, of Beckley; Noah Ichite, 21, of Pickerington, Ohio; Casey Hudock, 22, of Dublin, Ohio; and Ellie Hammond, 23, of Huntington, are the four students who were chosen to work alongside Toma for her research.

"We look at the mice and we examine the muscle – how it’s used and how it changes – when we suspend one leg. We take a biopsy of the muscle before the suspension process and after to identify these changes and make recommendations on how the muscle could be affected and improved if we were to apply this same concept to an injured or sedentary person," Hudock said.

Pinardo, a newcomer to the research project, said he’s excited to be involved and get hands-on experience in his field.

"I want to see what we discover after obtaining the original measurements and getting the measurements after inactivity," Pinardo said. "The most exciting part is seeing what comes next."

Hammond, the only graduate student in the group, said this experience has allowed her to take her clinical experience to the next level. Hammond will work as a clinical exercise physiologist at O’Bleness Memorial Hospital in Athens, Ohio, beginning next month.

"I currently work in the clinical realm, but I want to eventually work in the field of cardiac and pulmonary rehabilitation and this study gives me the research experience I need to accomplish that," Hammond said.

The students should complete their grant-funded (NNX15AI01H, 9175C-MURC) research in June 2017. Toma said she hopes to apply for additional grant funding to continue her research beyond this summer.

For more information on Toma’s research, contact her at tomak@marshall.edu or 304-696-2651. For more information on other research initiatives taking place in the College of Health Professions, visit www.marshall.edu/cohp online or www.marshall.edu/murc online.

The funding received for this project is part of a larger grant-funded research initiative through the NASA West Virginia Space Grant and NASA EPSCoR Programs, which will provide research funding for at least 28 additional students and faculty members at Marshall University in 2017.


Photo: (From left to right) Marshall exercise science students Ellie Hammond, Noah Ichite, Austin Pinardo, and Casey Hudock, and director Dr. Kumika Toma, are conducting research on age and sex differences in skeletal muscles through a NASA-funded grant project.