The Physiological Society has a conference every year, where lots of scientists from all over the world get together and talk about the projects they have been working on. At conferences like this, scientists use posters to present their results. This year the conference was in London so we decided to present some of our work.
The project that Laurie and Aliya were showing off with their poster was looking at how much harder the breathing muscles have to work when a person breathes in extra carbon dioxide (“CO2”). CO2 is a waste product that your cells produce when they make energy, and your body gets rid of it through the lungs by breathing it out. Some people with lung problems have high levels of CO2 in their body as their lungs are not able to get rid of it, so they have to breathe harder and faster. To do this, their breathing muscles have to work harder. If we give healthy people extra CO2 to breathe, we tend to see similar results to those we would get from people with lung problems, but without having to put poorly people through difficult tests.
In this study, we looked at how hard two different breathing muscles work – the diaphragm, which is the main breathing muscle, and some smaller muscles that sit between the ribs – when healthy people breathe CO2. We were interested to see whether both muscles work just as hard or whether one muscle did more work than the other. This project showed us that different people’s breathing muscles behaved differently during the CO2 test. We would prefer to be able to measure just the muscles between the ribs because to measure the diaphragm we have to put a tube up the person’s nose and down into their tummy, which feels a bit strange. Now that we know we don’t get the same information from the two different muscles, we can make better decisions about what we should measure in different projects – it might be best to measure both whenever we can so that we get all of the information we need.