Human Physiology Lab

Thank you for visiting the Human Physiology Lab.

Members of this research unit are interested in the experimental exploration of human physiology in physical activity, exercise, extreme environments, and chronic disease.

The goal of our research is to discover and evaluate

  • mechanisms of pathophysiology in chronic disease
  • exercise as medicine to prevent, diagnose, and treat chronic disease
  • mechanisms of physiological adaptation to exercise and extreme environments; and
  • the physiological impact of physical activity

The outcome of these studies will be used to guide therapeutic interventions, as well as training and physical activity recommendations for people across the human spectrum.

Research Program

Exercise as Medicine

Physical activity, fitness and health outcomes appear to be strongly related. Chronically ill children often suffer from exercise intolerance. These children often have poor fitness, participate in fewer activities and spend less time exercising; they are often deconditioned. Specific exercise protocols and nutritional interventions hold great potential for attenuating chronic disease and its associated disability. Therefore, the purpose of our research program is to expand our understanding of the interaction between physical activity, nutrition, physiological function and disease severity in children with chronic disease with the overall goal of rapidly translating research findings into patient care via new disease-specific therapeutic interventions.

Therefore the objectives of our research program are:

  • to determine the physiological mechanisms of exercise intolerance in patients with chronic disease; and,
  • to develop a knowledge base for evidence-based specific exercise and activity interventions.

To accomplish these research objectives we use traditional physiological testing, and also non-invasive magnetic resonance spectroscopy and imaging techniques.

High Performance Sport

Our high performance sport research program is designed to investigate the other end of the human condition. More specifically we perform investigations on how the human body works at the limits of its capabilities and how we can push these limits using recovery strategies, nutritional supplementation, programming, and testing. These limits can be related to elite sport training and performance or to human performance in extreme conditions like altitude, heat and cold.

Current Projects

Our CIHR Team Grant is funding research that is investigating muscle metabolism in obesity. We are conducting MRI and MRS investigations on the pathophysiology of childhood obesity on muscle metabolism. As part of this research, we have developed several powerful MRI techniques to investigate intramyocellular lipids as well as adiposity in other tissues such as the liver. This has allowed us to expand our previously developed 31P-MRS muscle metabolism testing, and we are investigating the relationships between lipid and muscle metabolism, with some excellent preliminary results, thus far. Our current research in this area is an extension of previously completed investigations on patients with Craniopharyngioma and Turners Syndrome.

The second series of studies involves ongoing research on muscle metabolic dysfunction in patients with respiratory disease. We are applying a new MRI technique to investigate the effects of systemic inflammation on perfusion in muscle of patients with cystic fibrosis (CF) and primary ciliary dyskinesia (PCD). The new technique uses traditional blood oxygen level dependent imaging (BOLD fMRI) in combination with exercise to evaluate muscle blood perfusion and oxygenation. When combined with 31P-MRS measurement of mitochondrial metabolism, we are able to examine the oxygen transport capabilities and limitations of the muscles of children with chronic diseases. We have some intriguing preliminary results that suggest differences in blood flow and oxygenation in children with PCD versus those with CF and healthy controls. This research has been previously supported by the Canadian Cystic Fibrosis Foundation.

Acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) is the most common type of malignancy diagnosed in children, yet is one of the most treatable cancers, with long-term survival rates approaching 80% 1. As such, considerations for life beyond ALL are important. Survivors of ALL are at risk for becoming overweight as an adult, and the adverse outcomes associated with obesity 3. As well, cancer and cancer treatment results in decreased functional work capacity, flexibility, mobility, and impaired neuromuscular function 2,4>. However, the exact physiological mechanisms that lead to exercise intolerance in children with ALL are unclear. The evidence supporting and informing exercise interventions in children with ALL is weak – therefore, a greater understanding of the pathophysiology and determinants of exercise intolerance are needed. We will conduct a randomized controlled trial that will assess the effects of an exercise intervention post bone marrow transplant (BMT) in children with ALL. We will implement a 6-month, three-arm RCT: children with ALL will be randomized to a non-exercise control group (n=20), a resistance-training group (n=20), or an aerobic exercise group (n=20). We will measure the effects of exercise on multiple outcomes in children with ALL, including biomarkers, muscle strength, neuromuscular function, bone health, and quality of life using traditional and more advanced techniques such as blood oxygen level dependent magnetic resonance imaging (BOLD MRI), arterial spin labeling techniques, and 1Hydrogen- and 31Phosphorus Magnetic Resonance Spectroscopy. Our research findings will be used to inform effective and unique exercise therapeutic interventions in children with ALL, which may improve muscle function, mobility, and potentially attenuate some of the negative physiological consequences experienced by ALL survivors.

Scientific Team


Dr. Ira Jacobs, Dr. James Duffin 

Post-Doctoral Fellows

Dafna Sussman

Graduate Students

Jessica Caterini, Dr. Barbara Cifra, Nanci Guest, Mackenzie MacLaughlin, Iva Mandic, Gillian White


Dr. Laura Banks, Dr. Sarah West

Past Students

Fiona Callender, Saro Farra, Evan Lewis, Sara Thompson

Selected Publications

A full list of publications from the Scientific Team can be found at PubMed.

Our 2014-2015 publications can be accessed by clicking on the links below.

West SL, O'Gorman CS, Elzibak AH, Caterini J, Noseworthy MD, Rayner T, Hamilton J, Wells GD. Skeletal muscle microvascular function in girls with Turner syndrome. BBA Clinical. 2015;3:25-30.

Lewis EJH, Radonic PW, Wolever TMS, Wells GD. 21 days of mammalian omega-3 fatty acid supplementation improves aspects of neuromuscular function and performance in male athletes compared to olive oil placebo Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition. 2015;12 (1): 1-11.

Rodan LH, Wells GD, Banks L, Thompson S, Schneiderman JE, Tein I. L-Arginine Affects Aerobic Capacity and Muscle Metabolism in MELAS (Mitochondrial Encephalomyopathy, Lactic Acidosis and Stroke-Like Episodes) Syndrome. PlosONE. 2015; E0127066.

Keightley M, Sinopoli KJ, Chen JK, Ptito A, Taha T, Wells G, Fait P. Cortical Thinning Following Sports-Related mTBI: The Relationship Between MRI Findings and Dual-Task Performance in Youth. Journal of Head Trauma. 2015; 30 (3): E97-E98.

White GE, Wells GD. The effect of on-hill active recovery performed between runs on blood lactate concentration and fatigue in alpine ski racers. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. 2014 Dec 24. (Trainee publication). Senior Responsible Author.

Sinopoli KJ, Chen JK, Wells G, Fait P, Ptito A, Taha T, Keightley M. Imaging “brain strain” in youth athletes with mild traumatic brain injury during dual-task performance. Journal of Neurotrauma. 2014 Nov 15;15(31(22)):1843-59. Coauthor or Collaborator.

Caterini JE, Elzibak AH, Michel EJ, McCrindle BW, Redington AN, Thompson S, Noseworthy MD, Wells GD. Characterizing blood oxygen level-dependent (BOLD) response following in-magnet quadriceps exercise.

Characterizing blood oxygen level-dependent (BOLD) response following in-magnet quadriceps exercise. MAGMA. 2014 Sep 24. [Epub ahead of print]

Russell C, Papadopoulos E, Mezil Y, Wells GD, Plyley MJ, Greenway M, Klentrou P. Acute versus chronic supplementation of sodium citrate on 200 m performance in adolescent swimmers. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2014.

White GE, Rhind SG, Wells GD. The effect of various cold-water immersion protocols on exercise-induced inflammatory response and functional recovery from high-intensity sprint exercise. Eur J Appl Physiol. 2014 Oct 17;114(11):2353-2367. (Trainee publication). Senior Responsible Author.

Banks L, Wells GD, McCrindle BW. Cardiac energy metabolism is positively associated with skeletal muscle energy metabolism in physically active adolescents and young adults. Appl Physiol Nutr Metab. 2014 Mar;39(3):363-8.

KPE Faculty

  • Professor, Exercise Physiology
  • Director, Tanenbaum Institute for Science in Sport