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UTEP Study Focuses on Electrical Stimulation to Decrease Diabetes Risk

Last Updated on July 01, 2022 at 12:00 AM

Originally published July 01, 2022

By MC Staff

UTEP Marketing and Communications

Whether it is caused by a poor diet or sedentary lifestyle, more than half of Hispanic adults are expected to develop type 2 diabetes in their lifetime, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

UTEP student researchers demonstrate how they use electrical stimulation to study its effects on glycemic control, insulin sensitivity and metabolic health in the College of Health Sciences' MiNER lab. Sudip Bajpeyi, Ph.D., associate professor of kinesiology, third from left, is the study’s principal investigator. Photo by Laura Trejo / UTEP Marketing and Communications
UTEP student researchers demonstrate how they use electrical stimulation to study its effects on glycemic control, insulin sensitivity and metabolic health in the College of Health Sciences' MiNER lab. Sudip Bajpeyi, Ph.D., associate professor of kinesiology, third from left, is the study’s principal investigator. Photo by Laura Trejo / UTEP Marketing and Communications

Type 2 diabetes occurs when the body does not efficiently respond to insulin – the hormone that allows the body’s cells to use blood sugar for energy. Although diabetes medications, physical activity and a healthy diet can help some people manage their blood sugar levels, others may need a boost to rev up their metabolism and lower their blood glucose.

This summer, student researchers in The University of Texas at El Paso’s Metabolic, Nutrition and Exercise Research (MiNER) Laboratory are studying the effects of neuromuscular electrical stimulation, or e-stim, on the metabolism of Mexican-American adults with sedentary lifestyles who are at high risk for developing type 2 diabetes.

Funded by a $600,000 R01 grant – a competitive grant from the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK) – the clinical trial aims to improve glycemic control, insulin sensitivity and metabolic health using mild electrical impulses to stimulate muscles and improve health in people who are inactive or unable to exercise.

“El Paso’s population has a high proportion of obesity and sedentariness – which are major risk factors for developing type 2 diabetes” said Sudip Bajpeyi, Ph.D., associate professor of kinesiology in UTEP’s College of Health Sciences and director of the MiNER lab. He is also the study’s principal investigator. He will be assisted by co-principal investigators Hyejin Jung, Ph.D., associate professor of social work, and Amy Wagler, Ph.D., associate professor of mathematical sciences.

“Many of the people here have prediabetes and they don’t know they have it until it’s too late,” Bajpeyi added. “The goal of this study is not to replace exercise. It is to see if using a tool that will easily contract their muscles can improve metabolism in sedentary people and help them become physically active and lower their risk for developing type 2 diabetes.”

Targeting Diabetes In Mexican-Americans

Diabetes is increasingly prevalent in El Paso. In 2018, Healthy Paso Del Norte indicated that 15% of adult El Pasoans had the disease, compared to 11% nationally.

Although exercise is highly effective at lowering blood sugar levels and making the body more sensitive to insulin, nearly 80% of adults do not achieve the recommended 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise a week.

In the MiNER lab, Jehu Apaflo, a graduate research associate and a student in UTEP’s Interdisciplinary Health Sciences (IHS) Ph.D. program, is helping to lead the clinical study, which also includes IHS Ph.D. student Joshua Labadah, kinesiology master’s students Ali Mossayebi and Gabriel Narvaez, and undergraduate kinesiology major Victoria Rocha. Apaflo, Labadah, Mossayebi and Narvaez are Dodson research grant recipients. Funds support graduate students actively working on dissertations, theses, or final projects.

“This study is going to help me in my professional career by giving me hands-on experience working with participants, coordinating all of our various protocols and giving me real-world experience into the trials and tribulations of conducting research for clinical trials,” said Narvaez, whose thesis is also based on the study.

E-stim is a physical therapy treatment that generates electric currents to stimulate the nerves in muscles to restore function and strength, prevent muscle atrophy and reduce muscle spasms.

Although e-stim is widely used in rehabilitation settings to prevent muscle loss in patients, Apaflo said this was the first time the technique was being applied to improve insulin sensitivity and metabolic health.

Michelle Galvan, a graduate of UTEP’s master’s degree in kinesiology program, helped Bajpeyi gather the preliminary data for the clinical trial. Galvan recently published a paper based on their research in the Endocrine Connections journal.

Clinical study participants first go through a health assessment that includes an oral glucose tolerance test, metabolic testing and body composition analysis.  

Electrodes from the e-stim device are placed on the participant’s thighs and send an electric current causing muscles to contract and relax. A ventilated hood connected to a metabolic cart is placed over the subject’s face to analyze how many calories they are burning and the percentage of fat versus carbohydrates they are burning.

Students use a remote to dial up or dial down the electrical pulses, depending on the participant’s tolerance level.

“The whole setup is to see if electrical stimulation will increase the rate at which the participant is burning calories and the specific type of calories, fat versus carb,” said Apaflo, who earned his bachelor’s degree in medical laboratory science from the University of Ghana in Accra, Ghana, and his master’s degree in biology from Jiangsu University of Science and Technology in Zhenjiang, China. The study is part of his Ph.D. dissertation. 

Each stimulation session is 30 minutes and participants attend three times a week for eight weeks. The study also will look at implications of mental health and health-related quality of life.

Training Future Researchers

Bajpeyi said the study also is a valuable opportunity for students in the MiNER lab to participate in novel research and gain hands-on experience to become independent researchers.

Jason B. Boyle, Ph.D., chair of UTEP’s kinesiology department, has been impressed with how much the MiNER lab has grown over the years, thanks to Bajpeyi’s hard work. He also lauded Bajpeyi’s commitment to ensuring the success of students.

“Dr. Bajpeyi’s success in bringing the first R01 in the Department of Kinesiology is a reflection of his relentless effort to advance scholarship and his dedication towards student success,” Boyle said. “I look forward to seeing his research contributing to the Hispanic health in our community.”

So far, the efforts of Bajpeyi’s students in the lab have paid off.

Mossayebi, whose thesis project is on understanding the effect of electrical stimulation on energy expenditure and glucose metabolism, received second place for his research in the Student Research Development Award category at the Texas Chapter of the American College of Sports Medicine in March 2022. He plans to continue his research at The University of Texas at Austin’s Kinesiology and Health Education Ph.D. program after he graduates from UTEP.

“Assisting in this research gives me hands-on experience in my field of interest,” said Mossayebi, who also presented his research at the American Diabetes Association conference in 2021. “I gain a deeper understanding of the scientific process. Moreover, the research skills that I am gaining in this project, including attention to detail, time management, critical thinking and problem solving, would be necessary for a variety of jobs.”

Rocha was awarded a Summer Undergraduate Research Program Assistantship (SURPASS) and a MERITUS award from UTEP’s Campus Office of Undergraduate Research Initiatives – paid opportunities to work in the lab taking blood glucose measurements, conducting resting metabolic rate testing and participating in other research activities.

She said her experience in the clinical trial will help her to achieve her goal of becoming a physical therapist.

“Taking part in this study is going to help me in my professional career by gaining more knowledge in the area of exercise physiology, research techniques and learning more about the human body,” she said.

For information about the MiNER lab, click here.

To participate in this study please contact