An emerging area of medical research, the gut-lung axis describes the bi-directional cross-talk between gut microbiota and the lungs.
“Gut microbiota – the bacteria and other micro-organisms that live in your digestive tract – produce chemical signals that are able to affect lung inflammation and immune responses,” Dr Vaughan says.
“Impaired or unhealthy gut microbiota are now implicated in a wide range of diseases that include asthma, emphysema and lung cancer.”
As an investigator on a recently funded NHMRC Synergy Grant, Dr Vaughan is currently examining ways in which microbiota, metabolites and immunity in the gut can be therapeutically manipulated to treat chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
“COPD is the third leading cause of death world-wide. It’s an inflammatory lung condition causing airways to become obstructed, making it hard to breathe. Our project hopes to develop new approaches to tackling this devastating respiratory disease by focusing on the gut,” she says.
Outside of the laboratory, Dr Vaughan is passionate about her hobby of powerlifting. She began about five years ago when doing her PhD.
The goal in powerlifting is to lift the most weight possible across three lifts – the squat, bench press and deadlift. In competition, the person with the highest total in each weight division is declared the winner.
Dr Vaughan says lifters come in all shapes and sizes attracting a wide range of people and athletes, all with differing motivations.
“I found it to be great for my health, it’s a fantastic stress reliever and there’s a real sense of community in the sport, with everyone working-out and training together,” she said.
Having a coach and being a part of a competitive team can be beneficial in getting to grips with the sport.
“There’s a lot to learn to be able to lift successfully. There’s a specific technique for each of the lifts, there’s the need to be mentally focused and you need the right nutrition and training regime as well.”
At one point, Dr Vaughan was spending up to three hours per training session in the gym.
“Hard work and persistence are certainly key to doing well but it’s not a chore if you’re seeing positive results,” she says.
“Anyone can sign up for a novice powerlifting competition and it doesn’t have to be about winning a medal.”
“You can just compete against yourself and aim for a personal best. A competition is the best way to test your ability.”