Students Present at International Biology Conference

Jose Maestas   Daniel_Gutierrez

Jose Maestas and Daniel Gutierrez

Las Vegas, N.M. — Two New Mexico Highlands biology students presented their research in April at the largest annual biomedical conference in the world.

Jose Maestas and Daniel Gutierrez presented in San Diego at the 2012 Experimental Biology Conference: Translating Science for Tomorrow’s Health. The conference attracts scholars and researchers from prestigious institutions like the Mayo Clinic and Johns Hopkins University.

Their study on cerebral blood flow is the master’s thesis for Maestas, 31, who will graduate May 12, and the senior project for Gutierrez, 23, who will graduate this fall. Both are natives of Las Vegas, N.M.

“We studied the effects running and walking have on cerebral blood flow to the brain,” Maestas said. “This research has never been done before and yet it answers such a basic question.”

Their research is the first of its kind.

“Our research used a noninvasive transcranial Doppler ultrasound device combined with a headset that allowed us to measure blood flow to the brain while the subjects were running or walking on a treadmill or resting. We also measured blood pressure and heart rate. Our major finding was that cerebral blood flow fluctuates during running,” Maestas said.

The Doppler ultrasound detects shifts in blood flow and produces images.

Previously, textbooks and medical research focused on a concept called cerebral blood flow autoregulation, where blood flow is regulated at a constant level whether a person is exercising or not.

Gutierrez said using the new transcranial Doppler headset technology made it possible to measure human’s cerebral blood flow while running and walking without using invasive, dangerous methods like inserting catheters into the aortic heart valve.

Before the students’ research, cerebral blow flow, or CBF, autoregulation studies were done on animals like rats rather than humans.

“This was a big opportunity for me to do research in a new area that went against what was always believed about CBF autoregulation,” Gutierrez said.

“Jose and Daniel’s research is very noteworthy, because it is the first to document that human brain blood flow is dynamically affected by the interactions of the heart rate and stride rate or foot impact,” said biology and engineering professor Dick Greene, who was the students’ research adviser. “This is an important preliminary finding. Many medical scientists at the conference were interested in their data.”

Greene has taught at Highlands for 20 years and is internationally known for his research in cardiovascular imaging and human blood flow in health and disease. He said the students’ research has implications for stroke patients because the data suggest that they would benefit from walking but are more at risk when running.

“Jose is a very bright and capable student who shows real promise in applied clinical research,” Greene said. “Daniel was selected for the RMAC All Academic Team in basketball. He’s exactly the kind of student athlete we want at Highlands.”

“The biology professors at Highlands are very knowledgeable with diverse academic backgrounds,” Maestas said. “Their doors are always open for questions and you get one-on-one help you don’t get in larger universities.”

Gutierrez added: “The biology professors are awesome, and they’re always willing to help a student athlete like me who travels for games.”

Maestas’ goal is to become a physician’s assistant and he will begin applying to schools this summer. Gutierrez has his sights set on being a dentist.