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Could bioscience research bring more Olympic and Paralympic medals

Some of the UK's leading bioscience and sports researchers have teamed up to help improve training for elite athletes, thanks to special funding from the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) and UK Sport with additional money from the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC). As well as helping to improve our sporting performance, the research will also provide answers which will benefit our ageing population.

Three new projects have been awarded a total of nearly 1.4M to look specifically at athletes' vision and movements at a physiological level, the answers to which could lead to improved training methods for elite athletes across all sports as well as providing vital information about how best to train or retrain people who have lost every day skills due to ageing or disease.

The three projects, announced today, will look at:

  • Working with elite cricketers to understand cognitive and motor skills and to learn how they adapt over their lifespan
  • Identifying the behavioural and biological mechanisms underpinning elite performance in aiming tasks through working with GB archery team
  • Looking at whether elite athletes have superior visual perception and if so, how and why.

The researchers will have access to top athletes, offering them a unique chance to study how the skills and finely-tuned physiology of elite athletes may or may not differ from the rest of us, for example do elite athletes have superior vision to the general public and if so, is this a cause or consequence of their sporting ability? And are cognitive and movement skills learned and retained more effectively in elite athletes?

Professor Douglas Kell, BBSRC Chief Executive, said: "Understanding how skills are learnt, maintained and change over time is important for athletes trying to push themselves to the limit to achieve sporting success. It is also important for the rest of us as we face the demands of living and working for longer. The UK bioscience community has the knowledge and skills to explore some of the major challenges facing high performance sport in the UK and similarly, athletes offer the bioscience community a unique insight into elite physiology which could provide vital clues about increasing healthy lifespan for everyone. So these new projects are a win-win all round."

Dr Scott Drawer, Head of Research and Innovation at UK Sport said: "The UK is a world leader in science and technology and it is exciting to see this excellence applied to all areas of life including elite sport. Continued research and funding into projects like this allows us to look for those marginal gains that can make such a big difference in world class sport as well as having a wider benefit for the health of the general population."

In 2009, BBSRC and UK Sport brought together relevant academics and members of the sports and exercise community to identify areas that could benefit from academic research. Two projects were funded in the first Olympic-inspired 'Elite Performance Highlight' in 2011 alongside these new projects announced as under the second Elite Performance Highlight'.

Contact: Tracey Jewitt
Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council

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