Dr. Thomas Lowder earned his master’s and doctoral degrees in kinesiology at the University of Illinois before joining HHP as assistant professor in 2009.
The following is more of our conversation with him:
HHP: Your research examines how physical activity and aging affect the immune system, specifically concerning diseases of the lung. Will you elaborate on your current work in HHP?
Lowder: I look at a population of cells that have a lot of application in disease models such as diabetes, cancer and any kind of autoimmune disease. These regulatory T cells are able to down regulate the inflammation we see in diabetes and asthma, and are up regulated during exercise. We’re trying to determine if they have any application for other diseases.
Presently, my lab is working on a pregnancy model. We’ve just shown some preliminary data that exercising female mice before pregnancy increases the immune response in the pups of these mice against asthma. This is pretty exciting stuff!
We’re also working on a cancer model. We know exercise can reduce tumor size, in that, if you implant a tumor in a mouse or if someone has cancer and they begin an exercise program, they can actually have a reduction in tumor size.
We would like to see if these particular cells have any role in cancer. They’ve been shown to block the body’s response to the disease. We might see that exercise can increase the functional capacity of these cells so that they actually decrease the tumor size in some cases.
HHP: What can you tell us about HHP that may not be found in a brochure?
Lowder: In most universities, you work with one professor. The collaborations between lab groups within HHP and other UH labs, as well as in the Texas Medical Center, allow students to be exposed to multiple research areas and data.
In addition, Lowder finds it exciting that a lot of discussions and inquiry occur outside of scientific meetings, when professors, colleagues and students visit in casual groups and talk at length about their work. He and other HHP professors meet regularly with students to informally discuss their papers, projects and current research, which keeps the students constantly thinking and motivated. He says that, ultimately, both professor and student learn from one another.
Outside of work, Lowder loves his dogs and believes his dream job would be to get paid for petting them all day. He is also a history enthusiast and a voracious reader, to the extent that he annoys his students with an unsolicited overload of information at times.