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OHIO student pursues health research, from medical implants to aerobic exercise

Jean Andrews | Nov 4, 2015
Lucas Harrison, a double major in exercise physiology and biological sciences at Ohio University, has received several awards that recognize and advance his research endeavors.
Lucas Harrison, a double major in exercise physiology and biological sciences at Ohio University, has received several awards that recognize and advance his research endeavors. Photo credit: Jean Andrews/Ohio University.

Ever since Lucas Harrison built an accessible playground at the local YMCA for his Eagle Scout project in high school, he’s had an active interest in learning new ways to improve the physical health of others through hands-on research.

Harrison, an Ohio University senior double majoring in exercise physiology and biological sciences, spent the summer at The Ohio State University College of Medicine participating in a program called Summer Undergraduate Course Creating Excellence in Scientific Study, or SUCCESS. 

“The program included attending professional development courses, participating in medical shadowing and volunteer activities while working with a paired research mentor to complete a project,” Harrison explained.

Harrison was mentored by David Dean, an associate professor in the department of plastic surgery at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center. The focus of Harrison’s research was on developing 3D-printed patient-specific polymer devices used for bone implants that are seeded with specialized stem cells to help prevent rejection.

“Direct clinical application of 3D-printed devices is exciting. Patient-specific implants create an exact fit for the patient. This helps prevent many problems that occur with the current one-size-fits-all devices. The 3D-printed implants resorb over time, making the implant temporary until it is replaced by the patient’s natural bone,” Harrison said.

At Ohio University, Harrison is conducting a year-long study he designed and implemented under the guidance of Michael Kushnick, chair of the department of interdisciplinary health studies and an associate professor of exercise physiology in the School of Applied Health Sciences and Wellness. The student received a Sigma Xi Grants-in-Aid of Research scholarship, an Ohio University College of Health Sciences and Professions Student Research Grant and a Provost’s Undergraduate Research Fund award to purchase lab supplies and arrange for volunteers to participate in the study. Harrison is observing volunteers’ metabolic responses to acute blood flow restricted exercise when combined with treadmill walking, a type of aerobic exercise.

During the study, cuffs are applied to the legs, which results in a decrease in blood and oxygen flow to the working muscle and an increase in physiological stress.  Limited but indirect evidence suggests these types of stresses may increase glucose and calorie utilization.

“Blood flow restricted exercise, or BFR, has become increasingly popular over the past decade or so. Lucas’s study will establish a baseline in understanding the role of BFR when combined with aerobic exercise. We want to demonstrate how this combination increases stress, and how blood glucose levels are affected,” Kushnick explained.

Harrison also has received several other awards, including the College of Health Sciences and Professions’ Dean’s Recognition for Outstanding Undergraduate Research. At the national level, he is the recipient of The Midwest American College of Sports Medicine Undergraduate Student Scholar of the Year Award.

“I’m continually intrigued by the fundamental role of research in broadening scientific knowledge. I plan to pursue a career in academic medicine, which will allow me to participate in some way in all aspects of research, education and patient care,” Harrison said.

The Research Division will host the workshop “How to Find and Apply for Summer Internships” on Thursday, Dec. 1, 2015, from noon to 1 p.m. at Baker 239; and from 6-7 p.m., 332 Clippinger; (repeat); RSVP requested, male-bru@ohio.edu . Ohio University students also can find summer research internship listings online at https://www.ohio.edu/fellowships/internships.cfm .