Students conduct award-winning research

Three Oakland University graduate students in the doctor of physical therapy program have received national recognition for their research on energy expenditure in women during radiation treatment for breast cancer.

“There’s very little information on having people recover from fatigue, so this is one of the early studies where they were actually measuring energy expenditures,” said Jacqueline Drouin, associate professor and coordinator of Post-Professional and Graduate PT Research.

The students — Emily Battle, Emily Wilson and Kathryn Slevin — will be presented with an award at the National Conference of the American Physical Therapy Association in San Diego, Feb. 17-20. Battle and Slevin will be giving the platform presentation at the National Combined Sections Meeting. There are 17 other sections.

“What was interesting about the research is that we expected by the end that people would be less active and using less energy,” Drouin said. “But up until now, energy expenditure has only been measured by surveys where you ask people how they feel.”

At the beginning of the seven-week study, which included six weeks of radiation treatment and a few days before and after, the students did conduct surveys to get a feel for where the participants’ energy levels before treatment.

The 17 women in the study, whose average age was 52, wore SenseWear armbands equipped with thermometers, accelerometers, pedometers and skin response sensors. These devices counted calories, kilocalories used per day and amount of time spent sleeping.

“It could also measure how many steps they took per day so we were able to see if they were more active or less active,” Wilson said.

The armbands, which Wilson said were smaller than a deck of cards, were worn on the subjects’ upper arms at all times except during showers.

The group hypothesized that there wouldn’t be any significant changes in energy expenditure or in activity levels during the six-week treatment period. They also predicted that any changes in those levels would not be associated with perceived changes in fatigue and hemoglobin measures.

As it turns out, people said they felt better and were more active then they really were.

“If you’re just using survey data to measure fatigue, it’s not accurate,” Drouin said.

The armbands also showed that by the last weeks of treatment, the women had a significant decline in activity levels, hemoglobin measures were not significantly different and the women could reduce their activity levels to accommodate increasing fatigue.

Part of the doctor of physical therapy degree requirement is to conduct research. Students can choose between helping a professor with their research and designing their own.

Drouin had been researching oncology rehabilitation several years prior to coming to OU in 2007. The students picked her research and teamed up with three nurses at Beaumont Hospital in Troy.

Drouin, who acted as their faculty mentor during the study, nominated the students’ research and later got the chance to inform them that they had won the 2009 National Student Research Award by the oncology section of the APTA.

“We were all pretty excited,” Wilson said.

Despite winning an award, the study is not done and new data is being collected every day.

“This was just a pilot study, so it’s ongoing,” Wilson said. “The target is to get 40 to 50 subjects on this particular study.”