Travel Report: Taylor Dick

April 14, 2014

Tayor Dick, a PhD Candidate in Biomedical Physiology and Kinesiology, received a Graduate International Research Travel Award to further her research in the UK. Her report:

In the summer of 2013, I had the great opportunity to travel to the United Kingdom to work with Dr Emma Hodson-Tole and one of the world’s leading groups in ultrasound research. I quickly adapted to the British mentality of having a pint or two over lunch at the pub, and then heading back to the lab for an afternoon of research. Luckily, I managed to choose the warmest summer recorded in decades in Britain, however, it was news to me that dorms do not have air conditioning or even fans.

Ultrasound can be used to image human muscles during various movement tasks, such as running, walking, and cycling and allows us to determine structural changes at the muscle level. Very few groups in the world are able to combine ultrasound with sophisticated computer techniques, so with the help of the GIRTA, I packed my bags and headed to Manchester for the summer to work on a project in a state-of-the-art facility at the Institute for Biomedical Research into Human Movement and Health.

Muscle is the motor that powers locomotion: the primary function of muscle is to generate forces to push and pull on the skeleton and allow movement. My project was focused on determining whether muscles act differently depending on how to load them. The complicated 3D structure of muscles, the differences in elastic structures at proximal and distal regions, as well as connections with surrounding muscles may cause different patterns of muscle movement. For example, the gastrocnemius, a plantar-flexor muscle that crosses both the knee and ankle joint presents the ideal system to study this, as we can rotate and knee or the ankle, and use ultrasound to determine how the muscle structure changes. Our results showed that indeed, a single muscle acts different depending on how you pull on it. This leads us to believe that one muscle may be able to have many functions, rather than the one or two we usually assign to it. A generalized or ‘jack of all trades’ muscle may present an elegant muscle design strategy in humans. These results have major implications for the way we model muscles in computer simulations of movement.

This project closely aligns with my research here in the Neuromuscular Mechanics Lab at SFU, which is broadly focused on how muscles and tendons power locomotion in both humans and animals. I am currently using sophisticated 3D ultrasound techniques that have only been possible in the last few years and recently, I have begun creating dynamic musculoskeletal simulations of human movement with hopes of biomechanical models and simulations being, one day, applied in the clinical setting.

I am currently working on a manuscript from the data collected with Dr. Hodson-Tole, and will present it at an International conference this summer. In fact, I am returning to Manchester this June to continue our research collaboration. I believe there are benefits to researching in different places: it is advantageous to expand your network of contacts, be exposed to different teaching styles, research methods, and various ways of thinking and problem-solving. This trip exposed me to a new academic culture, allowed me to utilize state of the art equipment not available to me in Canada (see MRI of my joints), and learn from International experts in my field. Most importantly, I was able to share scientific ideas and develop a meaningful, enjoyable, and productive collaboration with this group in the United Kingdom.

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