Caitlin Geary (BKIN ’19), lead author of article published in prestigious Journal of Physiology

UBC KIN undergrad Caitlin Geary, BKIN 2019 published in prestigious Journal of Physiology

Caitlin Geary is an Indigenous alumnus who graduated with her BKIN in May, 2019. While she was an undergraduate, she started to work in Professor Bill Sheel’s Health and Integrative Physiology Lab the summer before her fourth year, after receiving an NSERC Undergraduate Student Research Award.

When asked about her research she states, “a lot of our understanding of respiratory exercise physiology is based on studies conducted exclusively in men. There is a need to increase female representation in physiology studies and gain a better understanding of the male and female respiratory system.” Intrigued by what she learned over the summer Caitlin undertook a KIN 499 directed studies project, under Dr. Sheel’s supervision, to look at the differences in diaphragm fatigue between men and women during an inspiratory breathing task performed at equal intensities. Her research built upon previous work done in the lab.

Under the careful mentorship of PhD candidate Joseph Welch, Caitlin learned how to do the data collection and analysis and presented her findings at the American College of Sport’s Medicine Annual Meeting in Florida. She attributes her success to her team and says “Everyone in the lab offered their help during this project and they were first in line to be subjects for test trials. I knew I could go to any of them when I had questions. This study was a team effort.”

All told, her research project took over a year to complete from start of data collection through to having her findings published in an article titled, “Diaphragm fatigue and inspiratory muscle metaboreflex in men and women matched for absolute diaphragmatic work during pressure-threshold loading,”  in the Journal of Physiology. The journal is considered to be one of the world’s top peer-reviewed academic journals in its field, and Caitlin is listed as the primary author.

Caitlin explains, “we investigated whether there were differences in diaphragm fatigue and blood pressure response between men and women during an inspiratory breathing task performed at equal intensities. Subjects were in a seated position and breathed into a mouthpiece against a resistance for five minutes. Performing the task feels similar to sucking a thick smoothie through a straw. In conclusion, we found the severity of diaphragm fatigue was not different between men and women following the five-minute breathing task. Importantly, women demonstrated a lower blood pressure response than in men despite performing significantly greater work relative their body mass.”

Geary, C. M., Welch, J. F., McDonald, M. R., Peters, C. M., Leahy, M. G., Reinhard, P. A. and Sheel, A. W. (2019), Diaphragm fatigue and inspiratory muscle metaboreflex in men and women matched for absolute diaphragmatic work during pressure‐threshold loading. J Physiol, 597: 4797-4808. doi:10.1113/JP278380

The findings from this study are important, as they suggest that significant differences exist in diaphragm function between the sexes that have distinct cardiovascular implications. As one example, the results cause researchers and doctors to ask what the implications are for ventilating men and women in the ICU? As well, for patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, the findings from this study suggest that pulmonary rehabilitation programmes should differ between men and women and consider that women may tolerate greater loads for a given reduction in diaphragm function.

Caitlin received a Natural Sciences and Engineering Council of Canada Undergraduate Research Award to complete the work described in this article. The School of Kinesiology congratulates Caitlin for her outstanding achievements. Congratulations also go out to Joseph Welch and Professor William Sheel for their key investigative work, their co-authorship and their mentorship. We look forward to seeing what Caitlin goes on to do next in her academic career.

If you are interested in reading the peer reviewed article, click here .

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