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BC Biologist in Race Across America;
Studies Impact of Stress on Immune System

Patrick Autissier
Boston College biologist Patrick Autissier

CHESTNUT HILL, Mass. (June 19, 2012)—Boston College biologist Patrick Autissier, an avid cyclist and runner, has hit the road again as part of Team 4 HIV Hope, a four-man team competing in the 3,000-mile Race Across America (RAAM) this week.

While the grueling non-stop race between Oceanside, CA, and Annapolis, MD, is a true test of endurance and pain-tolerance, Autissier has turned the race into a rolling research project into the effect of extreme exertion on the immune system.

Autissier, a flow cytometry specialist in the lab of Professor of Biology Ken Williams, will be measuring the toll the extreme sport takes on the immune systems of people living with HIV and those whose immune systems have not been compromised by the disease.

Two of Autissier’s teammates, Steven Berveling, of Sydney, Australia, and Jim Williams, of New York, are living with HIV. Autissier and Glenn Dreury, also of Sydney, do not have HIV. Autissier will be taking blood samples from himself and his teammates on a regular basis and later analyze how the immune system responds to physical stress.

"The aim of this study is to discover the effects of endurance athletics on both HIV-positive and -negative individuals and comparing the two," said Autissier. In an effort to gauge whether there are different responses in the immune system, he will measure subset changes of lymphocytes and monocytes, both important cellular markers of immune system function.

"No scientific studies have ever been done in the context of such an extreme race," Autissier said. "Changes in the immune system and the blood parameters will probably be significant."

Billed as the “ultimate cycling challenge”, solo RAAM riders pedal day and night in an effort to finish the ride in approximately six days. In the team competition, two riders cycle while the other pair recuperates in a support vehicle during alternating shifts, Autissier said. Prior to the start of the race on Saturday, June 16, Autissier established research baselines. He plans to measure the effects during recovery periods to determine how quickly the immune system and blood markers return to normal levels.

Autissier has competed in the harrowing solo RAAM three times, successfully completing the course in 2006. In 2005, he competed as part of a RAAM team that came in second.

Team 4 HIV Hope hopes to reach the finish line in Annapolis on June 21. Follow the progress of Team4HIVHope on Facebook or Twitter: @team4hivhope.

—Ed Hayward is associate director of the Office of News & Public Affairs;