York prof. charts the galaxy of our bodies

Although we only need to glance up at the night sky to be filled with a sense of theuniverse’s scope, most of us rarely take time to consider the awesome complexity of the human body. At York University, however, Enzo Cafarelli, a professor in the School of Kinesiology & Health Science, is charting the galaxy contained within our very own bodies.

Forty to fifty per cent of the human body is composed of “skeletal muscle”, the muscle that enables all physical movement, from walking your dog to talking on the phone. Each muscle, however, is made up of hundreds of thousands of ‘motor units’, and each unit consists of a nerve that branches off into hundreds of nerve endings. For years, such baffling, microscopic complexity has frustrated researchers, and as a result, our knowledge of how the brain communicates with the body’s muscles has been dramatically lacking.

Cafarelli’s enterprising work, however, represents a major attempt to rectify this lack of knowledge. Using needles connected to amplifiers, Cafarelli is able to stockpile information concerning the behaviour of muscles during moments of fatigue, information that can then be analyzed on computer. A possible collaboration with a colleague, Michael Riddell, also in the School of Kinesiology & Health Science, is also in the early planning stages.This collaboration may ultimately investigate the degradation of muscle in type-1 diabetics, an area that has never before been extensively studied.

The research of Cafarelli is just one example of the innovative and collaborative work currently charging the atmosphere of York University. York’s researchers veer off traditional, well-trodden roads to explore new paths of scientific inquiry. By focussing on issues that may have profound, real-world effects on the health of Canadians, York is redefining the pursuit of innovation. And redefining the possible.

Jason Guriel is a first-year graduate student in English and the 2002-2003 York SPARK student (Students Promoting Awareness of Research Knowledge).

SPARK was launched in 1999 at 10 universities across Canada.  Through SPARK, students with an aptitude for communications are recruited, trained and paid to write stories based on NSERC-supported research at participating universities.