Skip to Main Content

New Research Lab Equipped to Assess Nutrition, Fitness and Performance

Results Will Help Prevent Diseases, Improve Health

UMass Lowell Image
Sean Collins attaches a mass flow sensor that measures oxygen intake.

By Karen Angelo

How does job stress or working different shifts affect weight? How does leg flexibility relate to injuries or risk of falling? How does fatigue affect physiological systems? 

These are few of the questions that are being investigated in the School of Health and Environment’s (SHE) new Human Assessment Lab located in Pinanski Hall. The 1,385-square-foot lab, available for use by all University faculty, is equipped with high-tech devices that can measure body composition, cardiovascular function, oxygen uptake and fitness levels. 

“The purpose of the lab is to assess factors related to human performance including biochemical, fitness, metabolic, nutritional and physical characteristics – all to discover ways to advise individuals and treat or prevent injuries and diseases,” says Dean of the School of Health and Environment Shortie McKinney. “It’s an interdisciplinary lab where we integrate health fields such as clinical laboratory sciences, ergonomics, exercise physiology, nutrition, nursing, physical therapy as well as related fields such as biomedical engineering and more.” 

Sean Collins, chair of the Department of Physical Therapy, is conducting multiple studies in the lab with other professors and students. He is collaborating with Assoc. Prof. Keith Hallbourg of Physical Therapy on a project to establish baselines for bilateral leg flexibility that can be used to study musculoskeletal injuries and risk of falls. 

Collins says: “This lab is set up with the right equipment and meeting places to bring people in and evaluate and measure any number of factors that affect health. We’re excited to have this new resource on campus.” 

Mindy Dopler-Nelson, assistant professor of Clinical Laboratory and Nutritional Sciences, along with researchers across all SHE departments, is conducting a study that assesses the prevalence of cardiovascular and metabolic disease risk factors in diverse female night shift healthcare workers. 

She is using a device – a dual energy X-ray absorptiometry made by Hologic located in Bedford – to measure body fat composition, a major risk factor associated with developing heart disease, diabetes and other diseases. 

“Visceral fat that goes through organs can cause metabolic changes that increase risk for diabetes and stroke,” says Dopler-Nelson. “This technology allows us to measure a participant’s risks and compare it to physiological, behavioral and work environment stress indicators.” 

Features of the Human Assessment Lab include: 

  • Interview and orientation room for participants 
  • Fully-equipped phlebotomy and specimen preparation area 
  • Changing room
  • Student workplaces 
  • Microwave and refrigerator for feeding studies 
  • High-tech equipment includes:
    • Indirect Calorimetry: Resting (Basal) Metabolic Rate 
    • Dual Energy X-ray Absorptiometry (bone density, visceral adiposity, body composition) 
    • Cardiopulmonary exercise testing with maximal oxygen consumption o Anthropometry 
    • Ambulatory electrocardiography, physical activity monitoring, blood pressure 
    • Non-invasive continuous blood pressure 
    • Pulsed oximetry, electrocardiograph, pulse transit time