May 23, 2012
The Race Across America (RAAM), which begins on June 16th in Oceanside, CA and ends in Annapolis, MD, has been called the toughest bicycle race in the world. But Patrick Autissier, a scientific researcher at Boston College and racer, has decided to add a scientific component to the physical challenge of RAAM.
Autissier is a member of Team4HIVHope, a four-man relay team. Two of its members, Steven Berveling of Sydney, Australia and Jim Williams of New York are living with HIV. Autissier and Glenn Druery of Sydney, Australia do not have HIV. With this combination of racers, Autissier saw an opportunity to take his lab on the road. With the help of Dr. Rob Miller -- who is the team doctor -- he will be taking blood draws each day from each racer, and shipping them back to his lab in Boston.
"The aim of this study," Autissier says, "is to discover the effects of endurance athletics on both HIV-positive and -negative individuals and comparing the two." He will measure lymphocyte and monocyte subsets changes during RAAM. "No scientific studies have ever been done in a context of such an extreme race," he adds. "Changes in the immune system and the blood parameters will probably be significant." A baseline before the race and the recovery period will be measured as well, to see how fast or slow the immune system and the blood parameters go back to normal.
The hypothesis is that, despite the high level of physical activity that all four cyclists will undergo during the Race Across America, there will be no significant differences between the immune system of the two HIV-positive athletes, compared to the two HIV-negative athletes.
"Physical activity has always been known to have positive effects on people's health and mind," says Autissier. "From reducing stress level to decreasing risks associated with stroke and obesity, daily exercise is good for our general health and should be mandatory for everyone. Importantly, not only healthy people must exercise routinely, but also people with chronic diseases like cancer or HIV/AIDS. For these people, drug treatment is only one part of the solution. Exercise and healthy diet must also be part of the equation."