Galway, Ireland
Tuesday 25th October 2016

Over the last couple of years, a start-up out of Ireland has been making waves in the field of biomarkers and data analytics.  In particular, the work that Orreco undertakes, has been used to provide athletes, including those that I have been responsible for, with physiological data that reflects their immune and hormonal responses to physical and physiological stress.  Armed with this raw data, the analytics provided by their impressive array of analysts and the expertise provided by their physiologists, immunologists, pathologists, physicians and dietitians, the team supporting an athlete can be guided in their management of the physical and metabolic loads that they expose the individual to.

If the training or competition stress placed upon an athlete is too little, performance gains will not be attained, if they're too great, the athlete risks underperforming as a result of insufficient recovery or potential chronic overload.  When teams are paying millions of dollars per week for players to influence their results, or Olympic medals are up for grabs on one day in four years, the margin for error is small and the costs of mismanagement are great.

Orreco were founded by physiologist, Dr. Brian Moore, in Sligo, Ireland, in association with haematologist Dr. Andy Hodgson and they have since been joined by esteemed statistician Dr John Newell, physiologist Dr. Charlie Pedlar and dietitian Dr. Nathan Lewis.  Recent collaborations have brought expertise from Harvard, NASA, IBM, the English Institute of Sport, St. Mary's University and NUI Galway on board.

This month, Orreco hosted their inaugural Sports Science Summit, inviting their network of science and medical experts to collaborate and debate as to where the technological leaps that are occurring across numerous industries, might start to influence sports science and sports medicine in the short and medium term.  Congregating in the historic Glenlo Abbey Hotel, Galway, the discussions raged about how the athletes of the future will be managed, with Craig Sharp's visionary article from 1996, documenting his predictions for the athlete of 2040 AD, being used as a reference point (Sharp, 1996).

In an attempt to summarise, what was one of the most inspiring and energising meetings I have ever had the pleasure of attending, I will report one take-home point that resonated with me, from each of the speakers that took the stage.  Today's post will concentrate on the presentations delivered in the first session, entitled "Sports Science & Medicine".  The two subsequent posts will focus on the presentations that comprised Session 2, "Applied Sports Science", and Session 3, "Data Science".


Testosterone: Neanderthal or Modernist Molecule? Professor Christian Cook.

Professor of Elite Performance in the School of Sport, Health and Exercise Science at Bangor University, Christian Cook has an extensive publication record, in the physiology of elite sport performance, recovery, rugby science, neuroenergetics, neuroendocrinology and aging.  Having worked with the All Blacks, New Zealand Cricket, Australian Rugby League, Australian Rules Football, UK Sport, America's Cup sailing and several NFL franchises, Prof Cook is well placed to comment on the influence of testosterone on elite sports performance.

Christian discussed the relationship between testosterone and cortisol, as influenced by psychology, physical stress exposure and sociology, and how it can influence game outcome in the acute phase.  Illustrating how initial changes are "elastic" but with chronic conditioning, such changes can become "plastic"'.  

Christian further described the development of an analytic tool, which will increase the understanding of performance margins related to testosterone stimulation, in order to enhance the learning and resilience of our future athletes.

Immune Profiling of High Performance Athletes: Moving Toward a Real-Time Monitoring System.  Dr. Richard Simpson.

A fellow Scot, Dr. Richard Simpson is an Exercise Immunologist and Associate Professor in the Department of Health and Human Performance at the University of Houston.  Dr. Simpson's current research specialises in the effects of exercise and stress on the immune system, with a focus on immunosenescence, cancer and space flight, which sees him collaborate with NASA in the care of their astronauts.

Richard explained the tests used to establish immune function, which exploit the relationship between exercise volume and infection, and detect the viral DNA of various herpes viral strains.  Post-exercise, immune function decreases for a short period of time, as the mobilisation of natural killer cells is impaired.  This window increases in length and magnitude in cases of repeated bout exertions.  Every person is infected with at least one of the eight herpes strains, with the virus lying dormant until global immune function is compromised sufficiently to facilitate a sub-clinical reactivation, which occurs very early in response to training stress and the test agents will react to the DNA of any of these eight as they present in saliva.

Richard proposed that non-invasive immune profiling tests, such as these, will help monitor the training stress experienced by athletes in the near future.

The Ups and Downs of Iron and Haemoglobin.  Professor Carlo Brugnara.

Dr. Carlo Brugnara is Professor of Pathology at Harvard Medical School and Director of the Hematology Laboratory at Boston Children's Hospital.  An expert in sickle cell disease, Prof Brugnara is Editor-In-Chief of the American Journal of Hematology.

Carlo presented the background knowledge about erythropoietin, the oxygen sensitive hormone that regulates red blood cell production, which is produced in the kidneys and has a close relationship with iron.  The amount of iron available in the plasma iron pool is variable but dictates the quality and characteristics of the red blood cells produced.  Carlo continued by describing the regulation of iron metabolism by hepsidin, which can shut down iron mobilisation when levels are high.

Carlo believes that by developing a panel to establish the individual's profile of iron regulation, which is dictated genetically, the individualised management of this critical aspect of wellbeing and performance will be enhanced in the athletes of the future.

Antioxidants: The Good, the Bad, the Ugly.  Dr. Nathan Lewis.

Dr. Nathan Lewis is a Senior Performance Nutritionist at both Orreco and the English Institute of Sport and has advised some of the dietitians with whom I've worked.  Dr. Lewis' research focuses on iron metabolism and biomarkers of training adaptation and recovery.

Nathan started by discussing the research findings into the plant-based antioxidants, polyphenols and carotenoids, which demonstrate increases in exercise-precipitated inflammation and fatigue following a two week restricted intake.  Further research focused on dietary deficiencies of these substances in athletes presenting with unexplained under performance syndrome (sometimes referred to as symptoms of overtraining), in comparison to healthy controls.

Nathan pointed to recent research that has linked these antioxidants with melatonin production, which directly influences mitochondrial function, and therefore sleep and recovery from exercise.  Further research demonstrating polyphenol supplementation enhanced muscle repair and regeneration, following muscle contusion in skeletal muscle was also relevant to athlete management (Kruger and Smith, 2012).  On the flip side, Nathan highlighted the widely disseminated research that points to high dose antioxidant supplementation blunting muscle adaptation following strength training bouts and high dose supplementation of vitamin B and beta carotene being linked to cancer.

Nathan proposed that by further understanding the effects of N-acetyl cysteine and polyphenols, we will be able to manage issues such as mitochondrial targeted muscle atrophy in our future athletes.

The discussions that ensued following the opening session centred around the implications of screening professional athletes, interpretation of screening results and the communication of information to coaching and playing staff in a digestible format from which practical management strategies can be implemented.

It was certainly apparent from the first presentation that the level of expertise in the room was of an extremely high level and the passion shared by everyone for driving performance forward was infectious.

The subsequent sessions will be summarised in my next blog post but I hope this first instalment has piqued curiosity in some of these fields of physiology.


Cohen, S., Doyle, W.J., Alper, C.M., Janicki-Deverts, D. And Turner, R.B. (2009).  Sleep Habits and Susceptibility to the Common Cold.  Archives in Internal Medicine, 169 (1); pp. 62-67.

Kruger, M.J. And Smith, C. (2012).  Post-contusion polyphenol treatment alters inflammation and muscle regeneration.  Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 44 (5); pp. 872-880.

Milewski, M.D., Skaggs, D.L., Bishop, G.A., Pace, J.L., Ibrahim, D.A., Wren, T.A. and Barzdukas, A. (2014).  Chronic lack of sleep is associated with increased sports injuries in adolescent athletes.  Journal of Paediatric Orthopaedics, 34 (2), pp. 129-133.

Ramakrishnan, S., Wesensten, N.J., Balkin, T.J. and Reifman, J.A. (2016).  A unified model of sleep performance: validation of its predictions across different sleep/wake schedules.  Sleep, 39 (1); pp. 249-262.

Sharp, C. (1996).  The sub-24-minute 10,000 metres, 2040 AD.  British Journal of Sports Medicine, 30; pp. 181-182.

Wright, K.P., McHill, A.W., Birks, B.R., Griffin, B.R., Rusterholz, T., and Chinoy, E.D. (2013).  Entrainment of the Human Circadian Clock to the Natural Light- Dark Cycle.  Current Biology, 23 (16), pp. 1554-1558.

blog comments powered by Disqus