Dr Michael J. Joyner, M.D. is interested in how humans respond to various forms of physical and mental stress during activities such as exercise, hypoxia, standing up and blood loss. Dr Joyner will give a plenary lecture at our BBEP meeting, 6-8 March 2016 in Nottingham, UK on ‘Physiological limits to exercise performance: Influence of gender’. You can watch the live steam here.
What is your research about?
I do integrative physiology studies in humans. My main interests are exercise physiology, blood pressure regulation, and regulation of metabolism. I am also interested in what world records in sport can tell us about physiology and also how the interplay between reductionism and holism in research informs science policy.
How did you come to be working in this field and was this something you always wanted to do?
I started in the late 1970s as a human subject in a study on the lactate threshold and distance running performance, and was hooked from day 1. A career focused on physiology research hit me like a thunderbolt at age 19. Until then I had been an indifferent student. The investigators in that original study were extremely encouraging and set the stage for what has followed.
Why is your work important?
The work on exercise largely focuses on the regulation of skeletal muscle blood flow. The mechanisms that evoke the massive vasodilation during exercise are only now beginning to be understood and this has been one of the great intellectual puzzles in biology over the last 150 or so years. The work on blood pressure has shown that women and men regulate blood pressure very differently and that especially for women things change dramatically with age. This work has relevance for the understanding, prevention and treatment of hypertension. My interest in blood pressure also extends to clinical monitoring (I am an anaesthesiologist) and how it can be refined to improve patient care. The studies on metabolic regulation focus on the non-oxygen sensing role of the carotid bodies and how they might contribute to things like the diabetes frequently seen in patients with sleep apnoea. The world record stuff is just plain fun and my interest in science policy is about trying to move the scientific and medical communities away from their current DNA centric world view.
Do you think your work can make a difference?
Yes, there is a translational element of almost everything my lab does and I like to think we can help link basic science observations to the whole human. By understanding physiological regulation in humans, we can then see how it goes off the rails in disease states and think about how to intervene to essentially restore homeostasis.
What does a typical day involve?
I get up early around 5AM and answer my e-mail and read the New York Times, at about 6 I exercise for 30-60 minutes and then head to St Marys Hospital which is part of the Mayo Clinic. My house is only about 2km from the hospital and usually I ride my bike. Four days per week, I am in the lab working with my staff and fellows. I am lucky to still participate in the data collection in our invasive studies but beyond that it is a lot of editing, discussing ideas, generating proposals etc. Over the years, the Fellows in the lab have been superb and almost all now run independent programs at “Research” Universities. My technical staff and research nurses have all been with me for years and the team is very strong.
What do you enjoy most in your job?
Almost everything! The interactions and chance really to learn from the students and fellows is the gift that keeps giving.
What do enjoy the least?
The compliance bureaucracy can get a little convoluted and frustrating at times.
Tell us something about you that might surprise us…
In high school I was an all-state French Horn player.
What advice would you give to students/early career researchers?
Do what you are interested in and don’t buy into the idea that a fulfilling life is a linear engineering exercise. It is nine-ring circus.