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Genetics detectives

July 2, 2009

The same way you might react to a 30-minute, cardio-intensive workout may differ greatly from the same exercise regimen performed by a friend who has roughly the same body measurements.  Why?  It’s genetics, or rather, subtle differences in our genetics, that make each of us respond differently to the effects of exercise, or to a particular drug, or why some of us are more prone to diseases than others.

Brown

Brown

Diseases like hypertension, with which certain groups have been shown to have a genetic association.   The question is, why?  What variants in these genes are causing these groups to be more prone to hypertension than others?  Those are questions that Kinesiology doctoral student Deborah Feairheller and professor Michael Brown are trying to find out in a study published in the July issue of Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise.

They’re on a treasure hunt, so to speak, to find out which genetic variants are the culprits.  Specifically, they’re studying oxidative stress, a condition in which there’s an imbalance between protective enzymes and free radical molecules which can cause damage to proteins, membranes and genes.

Temple researchers are trying to find the relationship between oxidative stress and hypertension, and how exercise plays a part.

Temple researchers are trying to find the relationship between oxidative stress and hypertension, and how exercise plays a part.

 

Feairheller says there’s a definite link between oxidative stress and hypertension, but it’s more of a chicken-vs.-egg relationship: they’re not really sure which is responsible for which.  They’re also trying to figure out what relationship exercise plays in all of this; Brown says that exercise can help stave off hypertension, but again, it’s not yet known why.

“We say all the time that exercise is our medicine,” said Brown.  “We’re just trying to make it work better.”

And armed with the scientists’ detection tools of microscope and petri dish, Brown and Feairheller are determined to figure out how.

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