Take 10 with... Silmara Gusso

Dr Silmara Gusso from the Department of Exercise Sciences gives us 10 minutes of her time to discuss her research on children with chronic health conditions and their ability to exercise.

Dr Silmara Gusso, Department of Exercise Sciences
Dr Silmara Gusso, Department of Exercise Sciences

1.  Describe your research topic to us in 10 words or less.

Understanding exercise, health and chronic conditions in New Zealand children.

2.  Now explain it in everyday terms!

I am interested in understanding how certain chronic health conditions such as diabetes and neuromuscular disorders impact children’s health and their ability to exercise. I am also interested in the benefits and applicability of tailored exercise interventions for these populations.

3.  Describe some of your day-to-day research activities.

My research activities vary considerably. It could include meetings and discussions with students and colleagues, writing grants and manuscripts, catching up with the scientific literature, or doing assessments and networking with study participants - my favourite part.

4.  What do you enjoy most about your research?

Engaging with the community and health professionals. I am always surprised how a five-minute chat in the corridor or a hello to a study participant can expand my knowledge or brighten up my day.

5.  Tell us something that has surprised you in the course of your research.

Young people with diabetes are already facing challenges with regards to their cardiovascular health. For many years, we thought that because of their short term exposure to the condition the impact on their cardiovascular health was minimal when compared to adults. Unfortunately our research showed that that is not the case. 

Several studies conducted by our group showed that young people with diabetes already have limitations on their exercise capacity similar to those observed in adults. Using MRI technology, we observed that alterations in cardiac structure and function are limiting their cardiac response to exercise. We now need to understand whether, and how, tailored exercise and clinical interventions can effectively minimise this impact.

6.  How have you approached any challenges you’ve faced in your research?

Research has many challenges - such as funding, broken equipment, and recruiting participants - and as with any challenge faced in life having a network of support is fundamental. Being open to reach out to colleagues and community for their insight and points of view has been instrumental in my research.

7.  What questions have emerged as a result?

More questions than I expected, and every time a project, a meeting, or an experiment finishes I have even more questions. But that's what I love about research. It's a never-ending story - you just keep adding to it. Some of my current inquiries involve the impact vibration therapy has on muscle function, and walking endurance in young children diagnosed with cerebral palsy.

8.  What kind of impact do you hope your research will have?

I think the research impact differs from project to project. Overall, my hope is that we are able to improve our understanding of how chronic conditions affect our children’s health and impact their ability to engage in physical activity, and most importantly, to provide more direct and effective exercise guidelines to health professionals, families and children.

9.  If you collaborate across the faculty or University, or even outside the University, who do you work with and how does it benefit your research?

I work with a variety of collaborators including Dr Rebecca Meiring and Associate Professor Lynley Bradnam from the Department of Exercise Sciences; Associate Professor Justin Fernandez from Auckland Bioengineering Institute; and colleagues from other departments within the University of Auckland. I am working alongside Professor Paul Hofman from the Liggins Institute, and physicians Dr Gina O'Grady and Dr Craig Jefferies from ADHB. Outside the University of Auckland I have collaborators in Otago and several universities in Australia.

10.   What one piece of advice would you give your younger, less experienced research self?

Always trust your instincts.