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Could bioscience research bring more Olympic and Paralympic medals in Rio and beyond?

14 September 2012

Some of the UK's leading bioscience and sports researchers have teamed up to help improve training for elite athletes, thanks to special funding from the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) and UK Sport with additional money from the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC). As well as helping to improve our sporting performance, the research will also provide answers which will benefit our ageing population.

Three new projects have been awarded a total of nearly £1.4M to look specifically at athletes' vision and movements at a physiological level, the answers to which could lead to improved training methods for elite athletes across all sports as well as providing vital information about how best to train or retrain people who have lost every day skills due to ageing or disease.

The three projects, announced today, will look at:

  • Working with elite cricketers to understand cognitive and motor skills and to learn how they adapt over their lifespan
  • Identifying the behavioural and biological mechanisms underpinning elite performance in aiming tasks through working with GB archery team
  • Looking at whether elite athletes have superior visual perception and if so, how and why

The researchers will have access to top athletes, offering them a unique chance to study how the skills and finely-tuned physiology of elite athletes may or may not differ from the rest of us, for example do elite athletes have superior vision to the general public and if so, is this a cause or consequence of their sporting ability? And are cognitive and movement skills learned and retained more effectively in elite athletes?

Professor Douglas Kell, BBSRC Chief Executive, said: "Understanding how skills are learnt, maintained and change over time is important for athletes trying to push themselves to the limit to achieve sporting success. It is also important for the rest of us as we face the demands of living and working for longer. The UK bioscience community has the knowledge and skills to explore some of the major challenges facing high performance sport in the UK and similarly, athletes offer the bioscience community a unique insight into elite physiology which could provide vital clues about increasing healthy lifespan for everyone. So these new projects are a win-win all round."

Dr Scott Drawer, Head of Research and Innovation at UK Sport said: "The UK is a world leader in science and technology and it is exciting to see this excellence applied to all areas of life including elite sport. Continued research and funding into projects like this allows us to look for those marginal gains that can make such a big difference in world class sport as well as having a wider benefit for the health of the general population."

In 2009, BBSRC and UK Sport brought together relevant academics and members of the sports and exercise community to identify areas that could benefit from academic research. Two projects were funded in the first Olympic-inspired 'Elite Performance Highlight' in 2011 alongside these new projects announced as under the second Elite Performance Highlight'.

ENDS

Notes to editors

The three new projects are:

  • Dr Narender Ramnani, Royal Holloway, University of London
    Cognitive and motor skills: adaption over the lifespan, neural signatures, and transfer from lab to field
    £350K
  • Professor Mark Williams, Brunel University, Professor Glyn Humphreys, Oxford University, Professor Chris Miall and Dr Michael Grey, University of Birmingham
    Identifying the behavioural and biological mechanisms underpinning elite performance in aiming tasks
    £542K
  • Drs. Brendan Barrett & John Buckley, University of Bradford, Professor Simon Bennett, Liverpool John Moores University and Professor Julie Harris, University of St Andrews
    Linking perception to action in sport: does superior visual perception explain why good players make it look easy?
    £521K

Projects funded under the first highlight:

  • Professor Paul Greenhaff, University of Nottingham
    Mechanism of eccentric training augmentation of muscle adaption in humans and the potential negative impact of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs
    £376K
  • Dr Harry Rossiter, University of Leeds
    Physiological systems integration in the optimisation of exercise tolerance
    £212K

About ESRC

The Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) is the UK's largest organisation for funding research on economic and social issues. It supports independent, high quality research which has an impact on business, the public sector and the third sector. The ESRC's total budget for 2012/13 is £205M. At any one time the ESRC supports over 4,000 researchers and postgraduate students in academic institutions and independent research institutes. More at www.esrc.ac.uk

About UK Sport

UK Sport is the nation's high-performance sports agency. Its mission is to work in partnership to lead sport in the UK to world class success. Primarily this means working with our partner sporting organisations to deliver medals at the Olympic and Paralympic Games. UK Sport is funded by a mix of Government Exchequer and Lottery income, as well as private investment through Team 2012. www.uksport.gov.uk

UK Sport's Research and Innovation team, led by Dr Scott Drawer, strategically invests £1.5M per year in collaborative projects to enhance the performance of British Olympic and Paralympic athletes. The team work with Innovation Partners in industry and academia who provide world class expertise to help make Britain's athletes among the best prepared and most feared on the start line.

About BBSRC

BBSRC invests in world-class bioscience research and training on behalf of the UK public. Our aim is to further scientific knowledge, to promote economic growth, wealth and job creation and to improve quality of life in the UK and beyond.

Funded by Government, and with an annual budget of around £445M (2011-2012), we support research and training in universities and strategically funded institutes. BBSRC research and the people we fund are helping society to meet major challenges, including food security, green energy and healthier, longer lives. Our investments underpin important UK economic sectors, such as farming, food, industrial biotechnology and pharmaceuticals.

For more information about BBSRC, our science and our impact see: www.bbsrc.ac.uk.
For more information about BBSRC strategically funded institutes see: www.bbsrc.ac.uk/institutes.