Giving research a sporting chance
To investigate the immunity of its elite athletes, the Australian Institute of Sport called on internationally recognised immunologist Professor Maree Gleeson.
The research team led by Gleeson found that while elite athletes suppressed their immune systems making them more susceptible to respiratory infections, they were actually no more likely to contract a new respiratory illness than one of their fans.
"When athletes complained of sore throats, the symptoms were predominately caused by inflammation and often due to reactivating a virus the athlete had had in the past. Their high intensity training had suppressed a part of their immune system that allowed an old virus to reactivate," Gleeson explains.
"If you are an elite athlete, viral symptoms mean you cannot train and perform at your optimum. But by putting the science and understanding behind what is actually happening in the body, personal and training behaviours can be modified to prevent this from happening."
Gleeson’s research has influenced the training of elite endurance athletes such as swimmers, runners, cyclists and triathletes. These athletes can now learn how to prevent the virus reactivating or how to switch it off quickly so they can continue training.
Gleeson has continued her research to prevent infections among athletes in parallel with significant appointments, including Inaugural Director of Medical Research in the NSW Government’s Office for Science and Medical Research. Gleeson is currently the Deputy Director of the Hunter Medical Research Institute (HMRI).
HMRI is a partnership between the University of Newcastle, Hunter New England Health, and the community. The role represents an exciting homecoming for Gleeson who completed her PhD at the University of Newcastle and has worked for over 30 years in immunology and pathology leadership roles in the Hunter.
"I have seen medical research grow rapidly here in the Hunter and become internationally recognised. My role is to assist HMRI to achieve the next level of growth and to support the development of a new clinical research centre to house this world-class research," says Gleeson.