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Professor Brett Ely Receives New Investigator Award

Interview with the Center for Research and Creative Activities

Professor Brett Ely, of the Sports and Movement Science Department, received the New Investigator Award from the New England Chapter of the American College of Sports Medicine (NEACSM). The New Investigator Award’s purpose is to, “recognize new investigators who… have begun and are likely to continue to make a significant contribution to knowledge in basic or clinical exercise science or sports medicine,” according to the ACSM website. Ely accepted the award at their regional conference in Rhode Island this year, we were able to speak with her and learn more about the research that led to this award.

The research project involves an honors thesis for two of Ely’s undergraduate students, Samantha Falzone and Elizabeth Gibeault. Both students are on track to receive bachelor of science in sport and movement science degrees. They are part of the exercise science honors track in the Commonwealth Honors program, where they are required to complete a thesis.

Ely explained the goal of their research in depth, “we are looking at the impact of exercise alone, exercise combined with heat therapy, or heat therapy alone on changes in post exercise and overnight blood pressure and heart rate variability,” to look into the combination of exercise and heat therapy to see if there is, “a bigger impact and could lead to exercise and heat combined as a possible treatment tool for people with elevated blood pressure.”

Ely pointed out that no research has yet been done on heat therapy and exercise in combination. That being said, their research is crucial because, “close to 1 in 3 adults will be classified as having elevated blood pressure or hypertension and exercise alone doesn’t seem to be enough to completely reverse it. So, we’re trying to look at other supplemental ways to lower a person’s blood pressure which helps them avoid having to take medication and avoid other long-term consequences of high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease.” Their exciting research could lead to potential alternative treatments for those with high blood pressure.

For this project, Elizabeth is focusing on the ambulatory blood pressure component of the research while Samantha is working on the heart rate variability portion. Ely commented that, “that’s the coolest thing about the research here, getting to involve undergraduates in the process.” For honors students in sport and movement science, they are primarily working with human subject research projects under a lot of mentorship from the department, “with a growing level of independence so that by the end they really feel like they have ownership of the project,” noted Ely.

The team has just started data collection and will continue this stage through the spring term. Both students are planning on graduating this coming May and will defend their honors thesis at that time. They will also go on to present their theses at undergraduate conferences, including the Massachusetts Undergraduate Research Conference (MassURC) and the Northeast Regional Honors Council (NRHC). Ely’s plan is to continue data collection through the summer and by that time hopefully be prepared to write a publication with Samantha and Elizabeth as co-authors in the Fall.

In receiving the award, for the project the team was able to receive a small sum of money to use towards research supplies. Along with this, for the department itself, “it continually elevates our profile in research within the department, and further bolsters our research credentials as a university,” Ely explains, expressing her gratitude in receiving this award not only for their research purposes but for everyone in the department as well.

In speaking with Professor Ely, she suggested that other students “find out what type of research or community-engaged scholarship is happening in your department and if there is a way to get involved. Sometimes that's as simple as volunteering as a research subject, you still get a little bit of insight into the process. Professors are generally really excited to talk about the work that they do and to include students in it. So don’t hesitate to ask.”

Ely wants more students to understand that getting involved in research and scholarship can be an extremely beneficial research and learning experience. If you are interested in learning more about this research project specifically, or participating as a research subject, you can even email Professor Ely directly.

Thanks so much for speaking with the Center Professor Ely, and congrats to you and your students! We can’t wait to see what opportunities come out of this research as it progresses!

Jill Willis
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