Cardioprotection Research Lab Investigates Heart Disease

October 31, 2014


Dr. Quindry Has Heart

Dr. John Quindry, Associate Professor in the School of Kinesiology in the College of Education, has secured two sources of funding for his research in the area of cardioprotection. Quindry and his Cardioprotection Research Laboratory collaborate with the University of Montana on oxidative stress studies, and with Iowa State University to conduct research supported by the Duchene Alliance regarding muscular dystrophy.

Quindry’s collaboration with Dr. Brent Ruby at the University of Montana has evolved into a five-year, human study on oxidative stress and free radicals looking at muscle tissue and blood after exercise recovery at altitude. The scientists hypothesize that free radial damage due to exercise is altered by the environment. Specifically, altitude inhibits exercise recovery.

Subjects walk or jog hills or a mountain or at simulated altitude created by altering air concentrations. After four or five studies, Quindry has found evidence to suggest that after vigorous exercise, recovery at altitude blunts the adaptive stimulus of oxidative stress. Hence, it takes longer to recover and it is harder to recover at altitude.

In addition to athletic applications, this experiment mimics situations where soldiers hike a mountain, are sleep- and nutrient-deprived, and must recover to complete extended missions. The Department of Defense has provided sub-awards to fund this study. Quindry and the scientists at Montana will continue follow up studies for an in-depth understanding of how environmental factors impact the body’s recovery after exercise.

Quindry and his Iowa State collaborator have also received two grants from the Duchene Alliance over three years, beginning in 2013 and continuing through 2015, for research related to muscular dystrophy. Quindry is investigating whether the diet can be altered to mitigate the damages of muscular dystrophy. The disease tears apart skeletal muscle and the heart muscle and results in death due to skeletal muscle or heart failure.

The Iowa State Animal Sciences Program and Quindry’s Cardioprotection Research Lab received $370,000 to investigate this inquiry. The scientists feed mice a small amount of Quercetin, a plant-based flavonoid, starting in their youth and following through their life span. Quindry is finding that feeding Quercetin to mice daily provides the mice the ability to breathe and function modestly better, but their hearts perform exceedingly better, even to the point of appearing like non-diseased mice.

Quercetin used to supplements the mouse diets is derived from the leaves of a plant found in Brazil. The substance is also found naturally in certain foods such as apples and onions, though the observed effects require dosages that can only be obtained through supplementation. He is conducting follow up studies to understand dosing patterns and the molecular reasons for the observed benefits. Two publications describe the findings and six more manuscripts are in the works.

Quindry’s primary area of research is heart disease and free radicals. He and his colleagues uncover why and how exercise prevents heart attack damage. Certain chemicals are released into the blood to signal to the heart to be protected.  Quindry’s evidence suggests that during and immediately following exercise, the body releases chemicals into circulation that initiate protective signals in the heart such that the damage of heart attacks is reduced by more than half. One of these protective chemicals is released by the heart during exercise and is an endogenous opioid similar to endorphins.

The other chemical appears to be released by the exercised leg muscles and is called Interleukin 6. Collectively, these findings reveal the “wisdom of the body” in that exercised muscle communicates better health to other parts of the body using chemical signals.

While these experiments are undertaken in laboratory settings that use mice and rats exposed to surgically induced heart attacks, the outcomes are clinically relevant. Just like humans, the exercised rodents exhibit improvements in their ECG tracings, measures of blood pressure, and blood markers of heart damage as compared to the sedentary animals. Perhaps most importantly, the exercise training needed to observe this remarkable protection occurs after just a few days of moderately intense exercise. Translated to humans at risk for a cardiac event, survival rates would be improved in those who have undertaken a few bouts of brisk walking in the days prior to a heart attack.

Given these clinical parallels, the Cardioprotection Research Lab is essentially a mice/rat intensive care unit. To conduct a basic mice study, the Cardioprotection Research Lab spends about $5,000 to $20,000 on supplies and mice, with more involved studies requiring additional funds. They are always looking for sources of funding to better understand the application of why just three days of exercise is enough to counteract much of the heart attack damage. While many researchers examine exercise to prevent heart attacks, Quindry is looking for practical solutions to counter the heart damage experienced by almost 1 million U.S. citizens annually.

Quindry’s take-home message: exercise is a superior means for heart attack injury prevention. There is no pill or magic bullet to fully protect the heart; it’s a lifestyle. Exercise is cost effective, pragmatic, and sustainable.  Because of the parallels to humans, these findings may soon lead to clinical applications that include combinations of exercise and pharmaceutical interventions to maximize health and minimize side effects in those with heart conditions.

To learn more about Quindry and his research, read any of his numerous publications on Google Scholar, or enroll in one of his classes: Intro to Exercise Science Research, Exercise Science Research, and Advanced Physiology of Exercise. If you are interested in supporting the Cardioprotection Research Lab with a gift or donation, please contact Julie Nolen at nolenju@auburn.edu or Dr. John Quindry at jcq0001@auburn.edu.