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Appalachian Receives $1.1 Million in Defense Department Funding

BOONE—Researchers at Appalachian State University have received $1.1 million in funding from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), for a two-year study of the effects of quercetin, a substance that might help maintain soldiers’ immune systems.

DARPA is the U.S. Department of Defense’s central advanced research organization.

The research will be conducted by professors in Appalachian’s Department of Health, Leisure and Exercise Science, Department of Biology, Department of Family and Consumer Sciences and the Department of Psychology.

“This is a big day for Appalachian,” said Dr. David Nieman, a professor in Appalachian’s Department of Health, Leisure and Exercise Science and the principal investigator for the grant. “This is the largest research grant ever awarded to the university.”

Nieman has been studying the influence of exercise and nutrition on the immune system since 1984. He has tested members of the women’s U.S. Olympics Rowing Team, participants in a triathlon held in Hawaii, long-distance runners participating in the Western States Endurance Run, and competitive cyclists, including Lance Armstrong.

He also has met with representatives from China’s National Research Institute of Sports Medicine and the State Sport General Administration of China who are interested in the research on sports and nutrition being conducted in Appalachian’s Department of Health, Leisure and Exercise Science.

Nieman is the most widely published U.S. researcher in the field, authoring more than 200 peer-reviewed publications in journals and books and 75 articles in health and fitness magazines.

He has been a frequent guest lecturer for the U.S. Army speaking on his research regarding changes to athletes’ immune systems and the increased risk of infection following extreme exercise.

Appalachian’s research team will collaborate with the Natick Soldier Center’s Combat Feeding Directorate and the U.S. Army Research Institute of Environmental Medicine, both in Natick, Mass. These groups will be assessing the effects of quercetin on physical and mental performance.

Quercetin (pronounced CURE ce tin) is a naturally occurring substance found in red grapes, red onions and other fruits and vegetables. The average American ingests about 25 milligrams of the substance a day through their normal diet, Nieman said. Test subjects will ingest higher levels of the dietary supplement.

Appalachian’s research findings related to quercetin may lead to strategies that will help maintain soldiers’ immune systems when they undertake long missions without sleep or food.

“A good diet is more than enough to maintain the immune system of the average person,” Nieman said. “For the endurance athletes or war fighters who undergo a lot of mental and physical stress, a normal diet is not enough.” Nieman said quercetin might be “the grain of gold” that will help protect the immune system under these conditions.

Members of the research team at Appalachian in addition to Nieman are, Dru A. Henson, Steven McAnulty, Lisa McAnulty, Charles L. Dumke, N. Travis Triplett, Alan C. Utter, Melanie Austin, Tim Huelsman and Courtney Rocheleau.

A research team from the University of South Carolina’s Department of Exercise Science will assist with data analysis.

“This award clearly recognizes the high quality of research that this team has been conducting for a number of years,” said Provost Stan Aeschleman. “It is a sign of the new effort by the university to encourage faculty who are seeking external funds for research grants. I anticipate that this award will pave the way for Dr. Nieman, Dr. Henson and their colleagues to seek and receive additional funding for similar projects.”

Graduate and undergraduate students will assist with the study. “When you have a strong team conducting research, it benefits students. They have the opportunity to observe and participate in significant research that is making a difference,” said Henson, a professor in the Department of Biology.

“Modern research today is being conducted by teams or institutions working together,” Nieman said. “This team is comprised of faculty from the academic areas of health promotion, exercise science, nutrition, biology and psychology. Collaborative teams are becoming essential to producing data that will be published in the top academic journals and attract grants. The students who will be part of this project will learn how research today is conducted.”