New Partnership to Boost Study of Human Physiology

University of Hawaiʻi at Hilo
Posted: Mar 27, 2002

The study of human physiology at the University of Hawaiʻi at Hilo is poised to go places it hasn't gone before. But the vehicle of exploration won't be the Starship Enterprise, although some of the instruments may conjure up images first seen on Star Trek. The research will be conducted with the assistance of a 35-foot Winnebago mobile home equipped with a variety of human physiology measurement devices. Dubbed the Holo Ola, or "rolling health" in Hawaiian, the unit will provide a creative learning environment and innovative model for promoting physical activity, well being and general health in Hawaiʻi.

The initiative is the result of a cooperative partnership between the College of Arts and Sciences and Labman Hawaiʻi Inc., a non-profit exercise physiology and sport science organization focusing on human performance, physiology, training and health related education.

Led by Dr. Douglas B. Hiller, orthopedic surgeon, and chief of surgery at North Hawaiʻi Community Hospital, Labman‘s team is comprised of Dr. Susan Sanderson (board-certified endocrinologist), Denis Yamada, certified athletic trainer and physician's assistant (director) and Laura Dierenfield (research coordinator). Hiller, who has worked with Olympic teams and Kona's Ironman Triathlon, in addition to his practice, has maintained an active research career, which caught the eye of Dr. Stephen Worchel, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences.

The Labman partnership is expected to greatly enhance the University's development of a human physiology program and a new minor in Occupational Health and Safety in the Pacific Basin.

"To open the door for our students to learn about physiological correlates of stress, how to measure it, and potentially learn how to use this laboratory to do training and reduce stress is an unusual and
exciting opportunity for our students," Worchel said.

The first Labman study in 1983 simulated the Hawaiʻi Ironman in the laboratory with Kenny Glah and other Ironman legends. Labman has since emerged as an active research lab on the Island of Hawaiʻi, with distinguished partners throughout the world.

"Labman Hawaiʻi is fortunate to have received help from a visionary donor who sought to provide the Winnebago as a tool to reach out to Hawaiʻi's residents in their respective communities, build
relationships and promote cooperation in understanding human performance," said Yamada, founder of the Winnebago project. "We want to increase access to Hawaiʻi's diverse environments, its people, and study issues specific to each community's needs. Partnering with UH Hilo will provide learning experiences for students and faculty, making direct contributions to the overall pursuit of knowledge."

The vehicle, which is currently being outfitted on the mainland, is expected to arrive here in early May. Worchel says the beauty of the unit is its ability to go out to many locations throughout Hawaiʻi
(from mountain to ocean), and provide a resourceful tool in a real time laboratory environment.

"For years I've looked at physiological correlates of crowding and psychophysiology measures. Due to the cumbersome nature of the equipment, I would have to bring people into the laboratory at the University, " Worchel said. "But you couldn't escape the obvious issue of whether your findings generalize beyond the laboratory. Now we have a facility that can go out and take measurements where people live outside the University."

The mobile physiology lab is also expected to become a valuable teaching tool as a virtual classroom on wheels. The interactive communication system will enable the unit to both receive and transmit courses from remote locations.

"The Mobile Lab Project brings the highest technology to the most remote neighborhoods for the benefit of the community, students and researchers involved," Hiller said.

Internships could begin as early as this fall. Worchel envisions students working in concert with Labman employees and faculty to develop various grant proposals, which could lead to the creation of new courses. He fully expects the partnership to grow and expand, so it can be linked with multiple programs, departments, and faculty members.

"I could see faculty and students interested in Psychology, Nursing, Health and Physical Education, the Human Physiology Program we're developing, and the Minority Biomedical Research Support Program making use of this facility," Worchel said. "There might even be opportunities for our Education Program to make use of it, by looking at the physiological measures of stress in the classroom for teachers. I really don't see any limitations on what could happen."