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Graduate’s muscle regeneration research leads to National Award 

Ryan Marshall

Research by a University of Sunderland Masters graduate has found that muscle growth could be boosted naturally when blood flow is restricted during resistance training.

Ryan Marshall’s novel research, as part of his Masters programme in Sport and Exercise Sciences course at the University of Sunderland, has led to him winning the British Association of Sport and Exercise Sciences (BASES) Masters Dissertation of the Year Award 2017.

This is the second time in four  years that one of our Sport and Exercise Sciences students has won this prestigious National Award, despite intense competition from universities across the UK. 

Ryan carried out research exploring the effects of blood flow restriction (obstruction) resistance training on changes in muscle size. A blood pressure cuff was used to restrict the blood flow, creating a hypoxic (low oxygen) environment, which causes an inflammatory response and stimulates muscle regeneration processes that occur naturally, increasing muscle size and strength. While there are the obvious benefits within the fitness industry, from a health perspective, the research is potentially encouraging for those living with muscle-wasting conditions, as the added stimulus may boost muscle tissue growth and strength. 

Working in the University’s Sports and Exercise Science laboratories, using the latest fitness state-of-the-art equipment and technology, Ryan made comparisons between a control group of subjects performing normal resistance training and measured them against other subjects where hypoxic methods, including blood flow restriction, had been applied. Resistance training with blood flow restriction showed the greatest impact. 

Ryan, aged 24, from Gateshead, explained: “During the final year of my undergraduate degree I developed an interest in skeletal muscle physiology, in particular how muscle tissue adapts to exercise, nutritional interventions, ageing and disease. The research project itself stemmed from an interest in Blood Flow Restriction (BFR) as I am an avid gym user. It was then developed further with the interest in hypoxia, with support from my supervisors Bill Sheldon and Dr Lisa Board. The novel aspect of the research is that it had never been done on upper body muscles before. The only other direct comparison of local and systemic hypoxia was on lower body muscles.”   

Dr Board, a Senior Lecturer in the Faulty of Health and Wellbeing, says, “Ryan was a model postgraduate student, who showed dedication and commitment throughout his course. He developed a novel idea, worked hard and thoroughly deserves this achievement. Winning the BASES Award shows that his research has national interest and impact, with a potential health focus for the future.” 

Commenting on winning the award, Ryan said: “I’m ecstatic! I knew what I had submitted to BASES was a good standard, but didn't really think I stood a chance against Masters students from many other Universities throughout the country. I’m now looking forward to the BASES Student Conference to present my project as a poster presentation. Also, as part of the award, I’ll present my research at the Annual BASES Conference later in the year.” 

Ryan is now in the process of applying for a PhD in the area of cellular and molecular physiology, looking more closely at what is happening at the point of the occlusion. Published evidence suggests the inner lining of the blood vessels, when stimulated releases nitric oxide, a natural vasodilator, which enhances blood flow. In the future, this may potentially benefit those with peripheral arterial diseases, however this needs further investigation. 

Two current Masters students in Sports and Exercise Sciences are developing the blood flow restriction resistance training procedures further. 

Talking about his University experience at the University of Sunderland Ryan, said: “I have thoroughly enjoyed my time at Sunderland.

“I couldn’t thank the members of staff more. They have helped shape the person I am today, especially my supervisors Dr Lisa Board and Bill Sheldon. If it wasn’t for those I don’t think I would have flourished as a student and developed a passion for research and pursuing a career in academic research.

Asked if he would recommend Sunderland to other students, he said: “Most definitely! You get what you put into university. If you are a motivated student the staff at Sunderland will get the most out of you and really push you. The university has many links for sports and exercise students to develop their CV and professional development; Sunderland football club, exercise referral schemes, personal training courses.”

Do you any advice to students thinking about studying a degree at Sunderland?

“Do it, don’t hesitate! The sports and exercise science department and the staff are excellent. I wouldn’t have studied anywhere else. Small group sizes allow for friendly student/staff interactions and debate. As you spend a lot more time independently running experiments in the labs, you start to develop a closer bond with the members of staff and begin to feel like a colleague rather than a student.  

“We have excellent state of the art sports sciences labs; physiology, human performance labs, biomechanics, sports injury, a fully kited out gym (both at city space and in the physiology lab) and full access to state of the art equipment.”

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