Human Health, Resilience & Performance


Humans operating in high-stress environments face a myriad of challenges that require peak physical and psychological performance. For example, warfighters must achieve mission success and return home uninjured, while operating under conditions and circumstances that challenge mental, physical and social abilities. In addition, these same operators must work in extreme conditions, including heat, humidity, wind, cold, underwater, and/or altitude, and be capable of rapidly adapting to challenging and uncertain environments. IHMC researchers Dawn Kernagis, Dominic D’Agostino, Anil Raj, and Kristy Hollingshead are developing novel strategies that optimize physical performance and injury resistance and improve the ability of warfighters to adapt to operating in these complex environments.

Research on Metabolic Strategies to Enhance Safety, Performance and Resilience is motivated by a growing body of evidence pointing to the application of nutritional ketosis as a metabolic strategy to provide neuroprotection and, in particular, resilience under environmental extremes. Ongoing investigations into the neuroprotective mechanism(s) of the ketogenic diet and ketone supplementation indicate that many of the metabolic alterations induced by elevated blood ketone levels provide complementary forms of neuroprotection.

These metabolic interventions are also being tested in various animal models to assess efficacy against seizures, neurodegenerative diseases, cognitive function, physical performance, hyperglycemia, hypoglycemia, ischemic wounds, radiation injury and cancer.   IHMC scientists are investigating the application and optimal regimen of these metabolic neuroprotective strategies for improving cognitive and physical performance, in addition to increasing resilience against potential injury in humans operating in high-stress and extreme environments.

Research on Multi-Omics Analysis of Extreme Environmental Exposures has led to the development of approaches to objectively measure the pathophysiological stress incurred by operators undergoing extreme environmental exposures (e.g., military divers, high altitude pilots, astronauts during extravehicular activity and Navy submarine personnel during disabled submarine escape). These investigations serve to elucidate molecular, cellular, tissue and system levels of changes and adaptations associated with corresponding environmental stressors.

This platform knowledge could then be translated to optimize human performance and resilience in these potentially high-risk operational scenarios. Genomics, proteomics, metabolomics, microbiomics, and extracellular RNA measurements and epigenetics are being applied across the biomedical spectrum to create an intricate and well-informed picture of the underlying pathology and novel diagnostic approaches for a multitude of disease processes. Researchers at IHMC are collecting these data from humans undergoing extreme environmental exposures for a full-picture assessment of the molecular and cellular-level changes taking place, in addition to elucidating the mechanisms of adaptation to certain environmental stressors.

Machine learning algorithms developed at IHMC will be utilized to combine multi-system data to identify a full-spectrum picture of the molecular, cellular and pathway level changes associated with these extreme exposures.