Page 122 - UCT Research Report 2011

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UCT Research Report '11
UCT’s Tim Noakes, Discovery Health
Professor of Exercise and Sports Science,
and director of the Medical Research
Council/UCT Research Unit for Exercise
Science and Sports Medicine (ESSM), is
used to throwing the cat among the pigeons
when it comes to research on the human
body, and in 2011 he duly did so again with
his latest work.
In his much-anticipated memoir,
Challenging Ideas:
Memoirs of a Career, and Elsewhere
, he argued that
carbohydrates, the bedrock of many a diet, should be
minimised. He and others, says Professor Noakes, could
be classified as carbohydrate resistant, which could lead
to diabetes, as the body must over-secrete the hormone
insulin to help rid the body of glucose, the breakdown
product of ingested carbohydrates.
His dump-the-carbs credo is not the first time that Professor
Noakes has bucked the trend, as his book illustrates. It
was he and his team at ESSM who warned race organisers
around the world of the dangers of exercise-associated
hyponatremia, or water intoxication, in which essential
salts in the body are diluted when endurance athletes
consume too much liquid during a race. And his work
with Lewis Pugh, the so-called human polar bear, has
illustrated the phenomenon of anticipatory thermogenesis
– the ability of the body to raise its temperature by several
degrees in anticipation of being plunged into icy waters.
Professor Noakes’ book clearly shows his passion for
human biology and research in this field; and in it he
argues the case for science and research, and their
importance in shaping the world.
“The book tries to explain how and why we do research,
and how it impacts on society,” he says. “When you start
doing research, you must decide what impact you want
to make.”
Certainly, there is no shortage of projects across UCT
that are making an impact in the field of human biology.
For example, Associate Professor Malcolm Collins, also
from ESSM, published extensively in 2011 on the genetic
basis for connective tissue and tendon injuries, and on
the genetic elements that could give some the upper
hand in the endurance stakes. Associate Professor Collins
is employing his findings in athlete profiling, which will
make it possible to identify those athletes who might be at
greater risk for injury.
Others in ESSM – in collaboration with UCT’s Brain and
Behaviour Initiative – have enhanced the understanding
of how the body and brain work when under pressure.
Together, the groups are attempting to map brain function
during exercise, so as to understand and describe the
involvement of the brain and central nervous system
during exercise and performance regulation.
That builds on the central governor theory now being
championed by Professor Noakes, which holds that the
brain regulates exercise, putting the brakes on any exertion
that may threaten its own and the rest of the body’s safety.
Imaging the future
The link between body and brain is gaining ever-greater
traction in the world of research, thanks largely to enhanced
scientific techniques such as medical imaging.
In 2011, Associate Professor Ernesta Meintjes of the
Medical Research Council/UCT Medical Imaging
Research Unit (MIRU), and holder of the DST/NRF
SARChI Chair in Brain Imaging, made headway with
some long-nursed projects. Not the least of these was
the award of R6,6 million from the National Research
Foundation towards a new magnetic resonance imaging
(MRI) scanner for Groote Schuur Hospital; although even
that princely sum has made no more than a dent in the
sticker price of the scanner.
Three grants from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in
the USA delivered more immediate results, however. One
grant, for example, allowed Associate Professor Meintjes
and her team to begin their contribution to the Children
with HIV Early Antiretroviral Therapy (CHER) Study at the
University of Stellenbosch. While CHER sets out to identify
the optimal time to put HIV-infected infants on antiretroviral
(ARV) therapy, the UCT study – that started with brain
scans of 65 five-year-olds – will look at the effect that ARVs
In praise and pursuit
of the human body
“Professor Noakes’ book clearly shows
his passion for human biology and
research in this field; and in it he argues
the case for science and research,and
their importance in shaping the world.”