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IHMC wants you ... for a clinical trial or two

A participant helps IHMC assess the effects of ketone esters on altitude extreme environments.

New research at the Institute for Human and Machine Cognition in Pensacola is focusing on improving the performance of the ‘human’ part of their name.

“The newest program within IHMC is in human performance and resilience. And that could apply to those with chronic disease (and) it could also apply to the most elite in our military. We’re very interested in maximizing human capabilities,” said Dr. Marcus Bamman, a senior research scientist at IHMC. He is leading the clinical and translational research at the institute to advance human health, resilience, and performance.

IHMC began recruiting scientists and research associates about five years ago as it began ramping up human resilience performance research. That work has been accelerating during the last 18 months.

“When we think of human performance, we think of the entire body, right," Bamman said. "So it’s not just physical performance, it’s cognitive performance. It’s psychological, sort of resilience. It’s everything that would enable a person to operate in an extreme environment, or battle a chronic condition in a way that not only can they perform at a high level, but do that over a long period of time.”

These researchers also are collaborating with and utilizing the artificial intelligence and robotics experts already doing work at IHMC. Dr. Bamman says maximizing human performance involves a lot more than working out in a gym.

Dr. Marcus Bamman

“Think of trying to maximize, with machine learning, ways that we can model what optimal human performance looks like. That requires us to collaborate with the artificial intelligence team here. Also when we get into research that involves individuals who have a mobility challenge, a spinal cord injury for example, we have a very, well-developed, exoskeleton team in the robotics lab here. So human performance is merging with robotics, it’s merging with artificial intelligence, and merging with our modeling expertise to try to tell, whether it’s a military cohort or an older population with Parkinson’s disease, we want to say this is the best approach, based on our research, for maximizing your abilities.”

And a lot of that research is already going on. The institute has a number of active clinical trials both in Pensacola and out in the field, including work collecting data at military bases. One trial requires deploying researchers to bases four times a year where they collect data on candidates for elite operational units.

“We also have clinical trials here in Pensacola, one of which is a new and exciting one for us, and (it) involves a swimming protocol. This is funded by the Navy. And this is a trial that is trying to determine the best way to reduce the inflammation and what we call oxidative stress experienced by people who spend a lot of their time in the water, particularly in cold water. And if we’re successful then that would mean those people who operate in that environment can do that for longer periods of time and more safely.”

Scientists at the institute are also holding trials that test people’s responses to operating at high altitudes and low oxygen levels.

“We can basically create somebody being on the top of Pike’s Peak in a chamber here in Pensacola, so they can experience what that feels like. And then we can test interventions. We can also test their cognitive abilities while they are at altitude versus at sea level. So once again it’s an opportunity for us. It’s a series of studies to evaluate an intervention that we are very interested in.”

IHMC is still actively recruiting scientists and researchers for this works as the institute continues to grow its portfolio of projects and areas of expertise. This will also involve physical growth. Plans are underway for a new building on the campus in downtown Pensacola on Alcaniz Street to house the human performance research complex.

"We’re very, very excited about that," said Bamman. "That building will have the capabilities to do everything I just described. So from the most mechanistic, molecular studies, all the way to the most applied studies.”

The ribbon-cutting for that building is still more than years away. Right now IHMC is looking for volunteers for both that swimming study Dr. Bamman talked about earlier and the high altitude study. You can find out if you qualify for one of those clinical trials on their website. And yes, participants will be paid.

Bob Barrett has been a radio broadcaster since the mid 1970s and has worked at stations from northern New York to south Florida and, oddly, has been able to make a living that way. He began work in public radio in 2001. Over the years he has produced nationally syndicated programs such as The Environment Show and The Health Show for Northeast Public Radio's National Productions.