by Norm Miller
ORLANDO, Fla., (TMNews)—Dr. Bob Bowen and three Truett-McConnell College students put the Cleveland, Ga., school on the scientific map at an international conference on sports medicine.
Held in Orlando, Fla., the American College of Sports Medicine’s 61st annual meeting and 5th world conference met May 27 – 31, drawing more than 6,000 participants worldwide, including clinicians, academicians, other health professionals and many more interested in sports medicine.
“The presentation went great,” said Bowen, Chair for the Division of Science and Mathematics, and assistant professor of biology at TMC. “The paper we presented gives Truett-McConnell College notable exposure in the scientific community, and the reaction to the research was overall positive.”
Bowen and the students presented a paper titled: “Genetic Variation Within And Flanking The Androgen Receptor: Correlation With Wheel Running Characteristics.”
“The students represented our college and me very well and interacted with a half-dozen or so scientists interested in androgen physiology and physical activity,” Bowen said.
The students assisting Bowen with the research and presentation were Brittany Cates, biology major; Jessica Epting, interdisciplinary pre-med/missions major; and Eric Combs, nursing major.
“We worked on this research project during the fall 2013 semester to analyze genetic variation in the androgen receptor among 30 different types of lab mice,” Bowen said. “We related the genetic variation between the mice to the physical activity characteristics of each type of mouse.”
“Another thing about this that is pretty cool,” he said, “is that we are seeing scientific data for the first time.”
Exercise is medicine
One premise of Bowen’s is this: “Exercise is medicine.”
“So, the big take home here is, if genetic variation existed, it may be related to how physical activity levels are regulated,” he said. “If we can change physical activity patterns, we might be able to curtail the rampant rates of diseases such as heart disease, diabetes, obesity, certain types of cancers, stroke, hypertension, etc. These diseases have a strong link to the amount of physical activity that is performed by an individual and are known as hypokinetic (low activity) diseases.”
As a scientist and educator, Bowen said, “Research is not only an enjoyable activity, but is a way for students to take the information they learn in class and begin to apply it to answer real world questions.”
Scientifically interested in the lack of physical activity and its associated diseases, Bowen also noted that sedentary lifestyles tallies U.S. health care costs at about $390 billion annually.
“Smoking and the lack of physical activity are the two leading preventable causes of deaths in the United States,” he added.
Citing a study of 60+ years ago among the bus drivers and ticket takers on London’s double-decker busses, Bowen said the employees’ had the same basic lifestyles in terms of diet and other habits, but with the exception of activity levels. The drivers sat all day, and the ticket-takers climbed up and down, traversing the entire bus all day long.
“Being in a state of near constant locomotion was astronomically in favor of the ticket taker to be preventative of disease,” he said.
Within the last decade, however, research shows that “the behaviors of physical activity have a strong biological connection,” Bowen said. “When we look at the biology, we see that our genes can dictate whether we’re a couch potato or frantic banana.”
Noting connections to testosterone and estrogen, Bowen said he is “deeply interested in how these classically defined gender related hormones are involved in relating human physical activity as now modeled by rodents.”
Interested in why the androgen receptor affects patterns of physical activity, Bowen said the students’ project “evaluated whether there is something genetic about the androgen receptor itself.”
Using sets of data from a large number of lab mice, Bowen and his students performed a correlation analysis of their genome sequences and wheel-running data.
The research showed minimal correlation between wheel-running activity and genetic variability within the androgen receptor gene, he said. “What that means is that most likely we can rule out the DNA component of the androgen receptor as a regulator of physical activity. In other words, the sequence and chemical makeup of the gene do not affect physical activity levels; after the gene is further processed into a functional protein the androgen receptor might influence activity behaviors. We still do not know yet. So, needless to say, more research yet to come.”
“Here’s the big take home picture,” Bowen explained. “We don’t know why biology and endocrinology and genetics have this influence on physical activity, but we want to know why and how these things have such influence, as well as what bio-chemical pathways and molecules are involved.”
Once the questions are answered, “then we have therapeutic targets that could lead, ultimately, to behavioral modifications that would increase physical activity,” he said. “And it is well-established that an increase in physical activity leads to a vast reduction in relative risks for heart disease, cardio-vascular disease, certain types of cancer, back problems, diabetes, strokes, hypertension and obesity.
“So, really, this is an area where we are trying to say, ‘Exercise is medicine,’” Bowen noted.
A nationwide increase in physical activity becomes increasingly vital with the advent of the Affordable Care Act because more Americans will be responsible for a larger segment of the population in paying for their healthcare costs.
“Anything we can do to chip away at that is going to be a massive benefit for our country,” he said.
Intersecting science, theology and evangelism
For those who recognize their sedentary lifestyle and think “they are just lazy and need to get off their duffs, I’m not sure it’s that simple,” Bowen said, while noting his opinion on the matter is “revolutionary” by common standards: “This is what we know. From the creationists’ perspective, we know that everything in this world is affected by the Fall of Man in the Garden of Eden.”
“The human genome probably was changed as a consequence of the Fall, meaning that the perfect genome God created is no longer perfect,” he said. “There is also now this link between genetics and behavior. So, there could be something ‘broken’ that in the beginning was perfect and is now causing people to be ‘lazy.’”
It may not be “laziness,” Bowen noted, but that “the drive to be physically active could be shunted because of a change in the genetics of individuals.”
“One of the most profound things I have ever observed in my entire scientific career is to measure physical activity in a mouse. The average laboratory mouse will run on a wheel 8 to 10 kilometers a night,” Bowen said. “Some will run 6 to 8 hours overnight, completing about 25 kilometers. They are constantly physically active.”
Studying such mice, and the chemical pathways in their bodies, may lead to increased activity and improved health in humans, Bowen noted.
Citing the Garden of Eden, Bowen said humans “were created for physically activity, to till the ground and work the land, and to worship and obey God. But since Creation 6,000 years ago, massive things have happened,” he said, including “100 years ago, the industrial revolution.”
The innovations of convenience severely reduced American’s activity. Bowen said, “Mechanization is a great thing, but it has come at the expense in the rise of chronic, preventable diseases.”
For Bowen and his students, science moves from titrate plates to personal testimonies of how research science can open the door to biblical spirituality and, in particular, evangelism: “I believe that science is a great way to engage people with the gospel,” Bowen said. “One of God’s calls upon my life is to discover how we can reach a community of mostly non-believers, many of whom are pro-evolution, pro-naturalistic, pro-atheist, and begin to engage them on the mystery and wonder of God through the gospel.”
“We use our science to build relationships,” Bowen said. “We did that in Orlando. I look at these meetings as opportunities to be in contact with fellow scientists and to touch them with the gospel. With persistence, and with success in science, I believe these relationships will produce fruit.”
“I love this area. This is what God created me to do – to be in this area of research. Today in America, the cancer rate among men is about 50 percent, and many of those men will die. And many of those men who die will go to hell,” Bowen said.
“Statistics show that some people become a Christian after being exposed to the gospel seven times. I am convinced there are people who have been touched only two or three times because their lives have been cut short by chronic diseases that can be prevented through physical activity,” he said.
“What if we can use physical activity to prolong human life so that we can get in the adequate amount of touches with the gospel?” Bowen asked. “We need to tell more.”
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