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Overview

The Brain, Performance and Nutrition Research Centre (BPNRC) is located in purpose-built, state-of-the-art laboratories at Northumbria University in the heart of Newcastle upon Tyne. The full-time staff include senior academics, post-doctoral researchers, research assistants and PhD students. The research centre has an international reputation for high-quality research investigating the effects of dietary, nutritional and functional food interventions on brain function and physical performance in humans. Over the last decade our research has focused on elucidating the central nervous system and physical effects of a wide range of interventions including: Vitamins and minerals Omega-3 fatty acids Herbal extracts Polyphenols Caffeine and other phytochemicals Dietary nitrate Metabolic substrates Dairy products Meals This research has almost exclusively taken the form of controlled trials. These trials are conducted to rigorous, auditable Good Clinical Practice (GCP) standards, and involve assessments of the cognitive or psychological effects of the interventions, often with concomitant investigations of global mechanisms such as cerebral blood ow, gluco-regulatory parameters, or hormonal effects. These studies are often informed by laboratory work assessing in vitro analytes and mechanisms of action. Naturally, given its applied nature, this research is ideally suited to help pharmaceutical, food and drink companies develop healthy or functional foods and supplements, or substantiate health claims on their current products. Our centre houses state-of-the-art testing facilities geared towards the high demands required to conduct fully auditable human intervention research.

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Cognitive Performance Assessment


Computerised assessment methods provide the most sensitive measure of changes in cognitive function and mood. Our own purpose designed Computerised Mental Performance Assessment System (COMPASS www.cognitivetesting.co.uk) is a exible software framework specically designed to deliver standard and bespoke cognitive tasks and measures of psychological function. COMPASS can provide a comprehensive assessment of mood, attention, concentration, executive function, and all aspects of memory performance. This high-tech testing approach is often augmented by more traditional, validated paper and pencil clinical scales and questionnaires. Whilst testing in the laboratory allows for the greatest possible control over extraneous variables, sometimes a more ecologically valid approach can be illuminating. We therefore employ internet and mobile phone testing paradigms that can take the tests out of the laboratory and into the real world. Examples have included the effects of vitamins on the cognitive function of children measured in their own homes, and before and after work in healthy working adults.

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Brain Imaging and Cerebral Blood Flow


Cognitive function is dependent on a wide range of physiological processes, and performing cognitive tasks often modulates these same processes. There is therefore an increasing interest in the effects of interventions and task performance on parameters that can be measured by brain imaging techniques such as functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI). One technique that is proving particularly useful in nutritional intervention studies is Near Infrared Spectroscopy (NIRS). This technique can measure changes in blood ow and oxygenation across areas of the brain by introducing laser light through the intact skull and measuring how much is absorbed by oxygenated and deoxygenated haemoglobin. The particular advantages of this technique over other brain imaging methods is that it can be applied while carrying out normal tasks and behaviours in the laboratory. It can be used for continuous monitoring of blood ow in the brain over a number of hours, and it requires comparatively affordable equipment, thereby making it accessible in terms of cost. The research centres NIRS system has already been used in ground-breaking research that has demonstrated cerebral blood ow and haemodynamic effects (i.e. increased blood ow in active brain tissue during tasks) following interventions such as: Caffeine L-theanine (from tea) Polyphenols such as resveratrol Omega-3 fatty acids

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Transcranial Doppler (TCD)


This is another non-invasive technique that measures the velocity of blood as it ows through the major blood vessels in the brain, giving another indicator of intervention-related changes in cerebral blood ow. In this case, rather than utilising the light absorbing properties of blood, it works by using ultrasound to measure the Doppler effect, a parameter related to the speed of the blood in the vessel that modies the frequency of the ultrasound signal.

EEG
Electroencephalography (EEG) uses electrodes placed on the scalp to record the electrical activity produced by the ring of neurons within the brain. This technique can give us a ne grain insight into the timing of activity-related events within the brain as well as a measure of overall localised activity.

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Metabolism
Energy expenditure is a key outcome in physical performance studies and we can ascertain this from exhaled breath using indirect calorimetry. We can also measure a raft of metabolic analytes, including glycaemic and insulin response, and cholesterol and triglyceride measurements.

Food Intake Studies


In an age of increasing obesity the question of appetite control is a key area of research; a better understanding may lead to healthier behaviours and diets, and the development of novel weight management products. Our own interests centre on the effects of food, food ingredients and exercise on subsequent energy intake. To investigate aspects of appetite and satiety we include quantitative assessment of appetite using techniques in questionnaires; mobile phone technology and computerised measures; dietary analysis using food frequency questionnaires and food diaries; preload methodology; assessment of voluntary food intake and ad libitum consumption; and the measurement of gut hormones and other metabolites/analytes related to appetite, such as continuous glucose monitoring, insulin, free-fatty acids, ghrelin, PYY, GLP-1 and CCK. Body composition can also be accurately assessed using Bodpod technology.

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Physical Performance
Nutritional interventions before, during and after exercise can have a signicant impact on physical performance. We utilise a range of specialised equipment and protocols to assess the effects of meals, snacks, supplements and drinks on performance in both elite and recreational athletes. All physical performance requires some cognitive aspect. Combining the expertise available within the research centre means we are well equipped to investigate the effects of nutritional interventions on both cognitive and physical parameters. In our dedicated exercise laboratories we have the facilities to assess exercise performance using running (treadmill) and cycle paradigms. We have also developed sports-specic laboratory-based protocols for a number of sports including golf and squash and utilise established intermittent exercise protocols so that nutritional products can be tested for a range of different sporting activities. Work within the unit also focuses on the effects of nutritional interventions on muscle damage following exercise and improving immune function. We have the facilities to conduct acute short-term and long-term intervention studies to investigate the uptake and bioavailability of food products, ingredients and supplements using techniques and state-of-the-art instrumental analysis. High Performance Liquid Chromatography coupled with Mass Spectrometers (HPLC-MS) is used for the determination and quantication of micronutrients and small molecular weight bio-molecules.

www.nutrition-neuroscience.org