Abstract science banner GettyImages-1136778425.jpg

PhD student: Benjamin Stacey

Benjamin Stacey is undertaking a PhD in Physiology and Biochemistry at USW's Neurovascular Research Laboratory researching the effects of low oxygen levels on the regulation of brain function.

Understanding how the brain defends oxygen delivery to itself is of significant clinical importance when you consider that many brain disorders, such as stroke, Alzheimer’s disease and associated dementias are characterised by an impairment in oxygen and nutrient delivery to the brain.  

During the third year of my Sport and Exercise degree, I opted to study Environmental Physiology, which allowed me to learn about how the human body responds to heat/cold stress and of particular interest, high altitude. It was fascinating to discover the adaptations that occur to humans when they are exposed  to over half the amount of oxygen that they breathe at sea-level. After completing my degree, a PhD studentship investigating the influence of high altitude on the brain was advertised and I was appointed.

Beginning a PhD was a big jump from undergraduate level with the first six months involving a mountain of reading (which never seems to end), learning multiple laboratory techniques and novel data analysis. However, I have had to chance to travel internationally to conduct my research, lead three research studies with international collaborators, publish 15 peer-reviewed publications, and presented my research at five international conferences.

The highlight of this experience has been joining an international research expedition to Peru with Global Research Expedition on Altitude Related Chronic Health (Global Reach). Global Reach is a 45-person international research team consisting of academics and physicians who conduct scientific expeditions to investigate how humans adapt to high altitude. 

In June 2018, we embarked on the 30-day expedition completing more than 15 major scientific studies and racking up over 3,000 hours of scientific testing in Peru’s Cerro de Pasco—a mining town at 4,330 meters. Experiments ranged from simple blood sampling, cerebrovascular and cardiovascular ultrasonography and maximal exercise tests to more invasive procedures including arterial blood sampling, haemodilution and microneurography. The first publication from this expedition can be found in the journal Hypertension and more recently, an experimental overview of this expedition has been published in Experimental Physiology.

I have recently been appointed as a lecturer in Clinical Science whilst in the final stages of writing up my PhD thesis for submission. Achieving the highest academic qualification will be an achievement in itself, but I would like to continue developing this area of research, publishing in some of the best medical journals and ultimately be recognised internationally for the work I do.