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Graduates Publish Medical Science Research Paper

Two JSC Graduates Publish Important Medical Science Research Paper

September 9, 2008

Two former Johnson State College science students who recently graduated have already had their first research paper published.

Stephen J. Roy, of Georgia, VT, and Jennifer L. Dickie, of Windham, NH, were undergraduates in JSC’s Environmental and Health Sciences Department in the summer and fall semester of 2006 when they conducted a study to measure improvements in muscle response in inactive young and old women through resistance training.

The peer-reviewed study made important findings into how to improve mobility in inactive young and old women.

The study, “Elderly Women Have Blunted Response to Resistance Training Despite Reduced Antagonist Coactivation,” is published in the September 2008 issue of “Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise” by the American College of Sport Medicine, after the JSC students graduated in spring 2007.

Dain LaRoche, Ph.D., a former Assistant Professor of Health Sciences at JSC from 2002 to 2007, was the lead researcher in the study, and Roy and Dickie were his lab assistants. A fourth member of the team was Christopher A. Knight, a colleague of Dr. LaRoche, now a professor at the University of Delaware, who helped with the methodology in the study.

LaRoche said the published study was a significant achievement for the students so early in their academic careers. “Having research experience sets them apart from other students and really gives them a leg up when they apply to other (graduate) schools,” noted LaRoche, who now teaches Exercise Science at the University of New Hampshire.

Dr. Liz Dolci, a professor in JSC’s Environmental and Health Sciences Department, agreed. “To have a peer-reviewed research paper published is probably the ultimate achievement for an undergraduate who is majoring in science,” she said. “It’s the best you can do!”

Dolci is also the baccalaureate partner institution coordinator for the Vermont Genetics Network (the liaison coordinator between VGN and JSC), which provided a $64,000 grant for the study.

The purpose of the study was to “Test the ability of a combination high velocity/high-resistance training program to enhance knee extensor muscle strength, power, nervous activation of muscle, and muscle activation time in inactive women and compare the response to training between young and old women.” The study involved 49 inactive women (25 women aged 18-33, and 24 women aged 65-84).

“It was an investigation of how elderly women and young women differ in muscle strength, power, and their ability to activate the muscle with the nervous system,” said LaRoche. “Then we looked at how the two groups differed in their response to strength training.”

By example, LaRoche explained that a person trying to bend (extend) their knee would normally flex their quadriceps muscles to kick the leg out. But inactive people also tended to flex the hamstring muscles on the other side of the leg, leading to improper and delayed motion.

“The example would be that for knee extension (kicking your leg out), the quadriceps would be the ‘agonist’ muscle group (doing the desired action) and the hamstring muscle group would be the ‘antagonist’ muscle group (opposing the desired action),” said LaRoche. “At the onset of the study, young women activated the hamstring muscle group (antagonist) at a level that was 18 percent of its capacity, while elderly activated it at 23 percent of its capacity. This coactivation (use of both muscle groups) was reduced significantly and equally in both young and old following training, a positive response.”

LaRoche said the study was important because it showed that inactive people, particularly the elderly, were at much greater risk for muscle loss, falling, and restricted motion if opposing muscle groups were activated. Strength training showed that those risks could be significantly reduced, and would also help the elderly to remain active, healthy, and independent, he said.

“A study I’m planning to do in the next year is to measure the extent of these co-contractions (coactivation) of muscles groups in a walking gait,” LaRoche added.

After graduating, the JSC students in the study continued their studies. Roy is studying for a M.A. in Exercise Science at the University of Pittsburg, in Pennsylvania and Dickie is studying to be a physician’s assistant at Shenandoah University in Winchester, VA.