The Societal Importance of Embracing Counterintuitive Thought in Science: Assisted Exercise in Preterm Infants for Long-term Health Outcomes

By Ellen Olshansky, Jessica Vaughan, Kelsi Sando, Julia Rich, Kimberley Lakes and Daniel Cooper.

Published by The International Journal of Science in Society

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For research to lead to progressive change, scientists and society must embrace what may seem counterintuitive. While there is often resistance to changing views of what we presume to already understand, we must be open to evolving knowledge and evidence. Our research is examining the effect of a novel intervention designed to increase physical activity of premature babies in their first year of life on: (1) body composition, (2) associated biochemical and cellular mechanisms of growth and inflammation, and (3) quality of maternal care. This study is novel because it is counterintuitive to prevailing knowledge of the care and treatment of infants born prematurely. Traditionally, we swaddle infants and restrict their movement in order to minimize energy expenditure. We are proposing the opposite: to increase energy expenditure in a systematic, controlled way in order to increase muscle mass and bone density, with the ultimate goal of preventing diseases associated with lack of muscle mass or bone density. Our research actively engages the mothers in the study by learning about their perceptions and their experiences of doing the exercise with their infants because the mothers, too, are aware of the prevailing views that are counter to what they are being asked to do. The mothers have taught us, however, that they are willing to participate in this exercise study, while paradoxically also viewing their infants as “fragile” and are fearful of hurting their infants. Our thesis in this research-based paper is that science and society must work in tandem to be effective.

Keywords: Clinical Translational Research, Society's Role in Research, Assisted Exercise in Preterm Infants, Counterintuitive Research Approach

The International Journal of Science in Society, Volume 4, Issue 3, pp.145-152. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 298.146KB).

Dr. Ellen Olshansky

Professor and Director, Program in Nursing Science, University of California, Irvine, California, USA

Dr. Olshansky is a professor and director of the Program in Nursing Science at the University of California, Irvine. She is part of the Leadership Team of the Community Engagement Unit of the Institute for Clinical Translational Science at UC Irvine. She also serves as co-chair of the Expert Panel on Women's Health of the American Academy of Nursing. Her research focus is on women's and family health, as well as women across the lifespan and qualitative research methods. She earned a B.A. in social welfare from the University of California, Berkeley and then went into nursing and earned a B.S., M.S., and PhD in nursing science from the University of California, San Francisco.

Jessica Vaughan

Assistant Clinical Research Coordinator, Department of Pediatrics, Institute for Clinical Translational Science, University of California, Irvine, California, USA

Ms. Vaughan is a medical student at the University of California Irvine School of Medicine. She completed her undergraduate degree in Biological Sciences at UC Irvine earning Phi Beta Kappa and Cum Laude honors. She served as a clinical research coordinator in the UC Irvine Department of Pediatrics for two years. Her research interests include exercise and preventative medicine. She hopes to pursue a career in pediatrics or obstetrics and gynecology.

Kelsi Sando

Assistant Clinical Research Coordinator, Department of Pediatrics, Institute for Clinical Translational Science, University of California, Irvine, California, USA

Ms. Sando began working with the Department of Pediatrics during her undergraduate education at the University of California, Irvine. After graduating with a Bachelor’s of Science degree in Biological Sciences, she has been serving as an Assistant Clinical Research Coordinator in the Department of Pediatrics. She hopes to pursue a career in medicine. Her medical and research interests include integrative and alternative medicine.

Julia Rich

Research Coordinator and Administrative III Nurse, Department of Pediatrics, School of Medicine, University of California, Irvine, California, USA

Julia Rich, RN, BSN, is a research coordinator and administrative nurse III in the Department of Pediatrics, School of Medicine, University of California, Irvine. She is interested in the mitigation of health problems associated with preterm birth. Under the vision of Dr. Dan M. Cooper, director of the Institute for Clinical and Translational Science, she is currently coordinating an NHLBI-funded research project, which has developed an intervention designed to increase physical activity of premature babies during their first year of life. She feels that this project is especially motivating because it is focusing on the whole family and the relationships between family members. It is rewarding to see how behavior change can be encouraged through development of a partnership with the family.

Dr. Kimberley Lakes

Assistant Professor, Co-director of Community Engagement Unit, Department of Pediatrics, School of Medicine, Institute for Clinical Translational Research, University of California, Irvine, California, USA

Dr. Lakes is an assistant professor in the Department of Pediatrics at the University of California, Irvine. Her research interests include the development of executive function and self-regulation, intervention to promote executive functions in children, and research methods. Her research translates cognitive neuroscience into novel intervention practices. Currently, she is studying exercise interventions that could optimize effects on executive function in children.

Dr. Daniel Cooper

Professor, Chair, Principal Investigator, Department of Pediatrics, School of Medicine, Principal Investigator of the Institute for Clinical Translational Research, Principal Investigator, Assisted Exercise in Preterm Infants: New Approaches, University of California, Irvine, CA, USA

Dr. Cooper is a professor of pediatrics, UC Irvine Chief, Pediatric Pulmonology Division, the founding director of the Institute for Clinical Translational Science and the program director of the UC Irvine Clinical Research Center. His research seeks to identify how exercise can best be used to prevent asthma and obesity in children, in particular, how brief bouts of exercise alter gene expression and functional responses of neutrophils. The neutrophil is a unique cell capable of instigating disease processes such as the common exercise-induced asthma. At the same time, conditioning of neutrophils by physical activity can play a role in how exercise prevents diseases such as atherosclerosis. He is particularly interested in new therapies involving both pharmacologic and lifestyle interventions.