UNLV Nursing Professor Barbara St. Pierre Schneider was awarded $2.26 million from the U.S. Air Force to study the effects of air transport on skeletal muscle crush injury - an effort that could lead to new ways to treat wounded soldiers.
Thousands of wounded soldiers are air evacuated each month from military bases and battlefields around the world due to injuries suffered during combat. During transport, injured muscle and other tissue are exposed to high-altitude conditions that can alter the body's normal inflammatory response and could worsen injuries.
St. Pierre Schneider and her team are investigating how hypobaric hypoxia - a low oxygen, high altitude environment experienced during flight - alters the immune response, and whether the hormone estrogen could limit this effect.
"Hypobaric hypoxia may interfere with the repair of injured muscle and other tissue by altering the body's immune response." said St. Pierre Schneider. "In this case, counteracting strategies are needed so that our wounded service men and women can recover as quickly as possible."
After a muscle is injured, the immune system triggers an inflammatory response that includes the activation of specialized cells called leukocytes, which in part clean up debris in the injured area and play a role in muscle repair. Hypobaric hypoxia may lead to an excessive inflammation, which can do more harm than good.
For this three-year study, St. Pierre Schneider's team will use a mouse model to simulate the effects of hypobaric hypoxia and determine whether an exaggerated leukocyte response occurs in crush-injured muscle. Then the team will test whether estrogen counteracts the leukocyte response. Estrogen is being tested because previous research shows that estrogen can diminish the leukocyte response within injured muscle.
The results of this study will advance our understanding of the effect hypobaric hypoxia on muscle injury and may offer new insight into possible counteracting treatment. The project is funded through a cooperative agreement between UNLV and the U.S. Air Force.