Researcher goes to Alaska sled dogs to find secret of athletic endurance

Posted: Tuesday, January 06, 2009

STILLWATER, Okla. - An Oklahoma State University veterinary professor is on his annual research trip to Alaska, where he studies sled dogs for physiological clues that could improve understanding of human medical conditions such as obesity and type 2 diabetes.

Michael Davis has studied sled dogs for about a decade to learn how they can run hundreds of miles in conditions as cold as minus-40 degrees.

During periods of racing, sled dogs can burn thousands of calories per day. A 55-pound sled dog can consume the equivalent of 24 McDonald's Big Macs to fuel their run on any given day.

"Sled dogs are an excellent example of what is referred to as the athlete's paradox," said Davis.

He said that in obese humans who develop type 2 diabetes, the muscles take up loads of fat, and the accumulation of the fat in the cell interferes with metabolism. However, in athletes - human or sled dog - there is similar accumulation of fat within the cells, but instead of being insulin resistant, these athletes are even more insulin sensitive than normal.

"So far, no one can explain this, but the sled dogs may provide a great opportunity," Davis said.

Davis also will study prevention of gastric ulcers and ways to predict which dogs are best prepared for a race, and will test equipment used to measure metabolism. His research is funded by various entities, including the mushers themselves, the Diabetes Research Foundation, and the American Kennel Club.

Davis and his research team, which involves scientists from other universities, will be gone several months and drive hundreds of miles across Alaska.

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