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College of Arts and Sciences Newsroom

University of Dayton senior receives Excellence in Undergraduate Research Award

By Dave Larsen

University of Dayton senior Serafino LaGalbo received a Barbara A. Horwitz and John M. Horowitz Excellence in Undergraduate Research Award from the American Physiological Society for investigating the effects of exposing the legs to short bouts of ischemia, or lack of blood flow, on maximal exercise performance.

The award recognizes student researchers who are first-authors on a project presented at the Experimental Biology conference, the annual meeting of the American Physiological Society (APS) and other scientific societies that draws more than 12,000 scientists from around the world. This year’s conference, scheduled for April 4-7 in San Diego, was canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic, denying LaGalbo the opportunity to present his findings.

His research project also serves as his Honors Thesis work. It was supported by the College of Arts and Sciences’ Dean’s Summer Fellowship program and a competitive 2019 APS Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship.

“Experimental Biology was supposed to be the culmination of all this work, honestly, but I’m so glad I got the opportunity to present my research at the University’s Honors Thesis Symposium in early March,” said LaGalbo, a premedicine major from Mequon, Wisconsin.

He was mentored by Anne Crecelius, associate professor and interim chair of the Department of Health and Sport Science. She directs the Integrative Human Physiology Laboratory, where she and student researchers examine muscle blood flow regulation in humans at rest and during stress.

LaGalbo investigated the physiological phenomenon of ischemic preconditioning — also known as IPC — an experimental technique for producing resistance to the detrimental effects of the loss of blood supply, and thus oxygen, to various human tissues. He used two large blood pressure cuffs like tourniquets on both legs of 12 research participants. The cuffs were inflated to high pressures, cutting off the blood and oxygen supplies to the legs for 5 minutes at a time, four times each, before the participants pedaled a stationary bike, which increased in difficulty over time. He also investigated the body’s response to exercise by having the participants squeeze a handgrip device after exposing them to IPC.

While he didn’t find any impact on athletic endurance, LaGalbo found participants who went through the IPC on their legs had lower average blood pressure during the handgrip-squeezing exercise compared to tests without IPC intervention.

“There are studies that have shown that increases in high blood pressure tax the heart and therefore can lead to increased fatigue. So, the fact that IPC decreased arterial pressure is significant. It shows that the heart is almost being less-taxed, or the system isn’t working quite as hard as it normally would,” he said.

LaGalbo started his research during the 2019 spring semester and continued through that summer. He then analyzed the data for significant findings. In April, he completed the final manuscript of an article, co-written with Crecelius, that they hope will be published in the coming months in a physiology journal.

“From when he first approached me about participating in the lab, through the presentation of his work, Serafino has been professional, inquisitive and always willing to do what was needed to get the job done,” Crecelius said. “He coordinated multiple participant visits and helped design new protocols for our cycle ergometer. His positive impact will last even after he is off to medical school.

“I was really disappointed when he wasn't able to present at Experimental Biology and accept the award he won in person. I know he would have enjoyed seeing all of the research presented there and connecting in person with the APS Summer Fellows he had gotten to know while working on his project.”

In August, LaGalbo will attend Rush Medical College in Chicago, with plans to pursue a career in cardiology. In each of his medical school interviews, he was asked to discuss his research and role as the project’s lead.

He credits the University of Dayton’s size and community for the success of his project, which began with an email to Crecelius expressing his interest in the cardiovascular system. She responded within 24 hours, they met later that week, and soon he was working in her lab and setting up his own project.

“That kind of thing is what makes Dayton different,” LaGalbo said. “The fact that it’s not too small, where it’s not recognized, or it’s not too big, where there are 40 people in my lab and I don’t even know if I can even do anything productive. It definitely has been a perfect setting for me.”

For more information, visit the Department of Health and Sport Science website.

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