Dr. Huffman’s research revolves around the following themes: molecular and metabolic benefits of exercise training; cardiometabolic risk and skeletal muscle dysfunction in rheumatoid arthritis (RA); effects of physical activity on RA; and, physical activity and caloric restriction benefits on biologic aging.
In 2002, Dr. Huffman began work with Dr. William Kraus focusing on inflammatory and metabolic predictors of skeletal muscle insulin sensitivity and responses to exercise training. With data from Studies of a Targeted Risk Reduction Intervention through Defined Exercise (STRRIDE), they demonstrated that insulin resistance is related to circulating branched chain amino acids;(1) and that exercise training improves insulin sensitivity in concert with reductions in fatty acids and increases in glycine and proline (2). Drs. Huffman and Kraus continue collaborative efforts to integrate multiple exercise training intervention data ontogenies including physiologic, genetic, metabolic, and skeletal muscle molecular data. This work will contribute to understanding how multi-systemic responses to exercise training lead to improved cardio-metabolic health.
Another major research focus has been to evaluate RA cardiometabolic risk and response to exercise training. When accounting for age, gender, and body mass index, the greatest determinant of RA insulin action was body composition, specifically adiposity, rather than disease activity. Nonetheless, in collaboration with Dr. David Bartlett, we showed that despite minimal improvements on body composition, high intensity interval training improves RA disease activity, neutrophil function, and monocyte atherogenic potential.
Dr. Huffman’s clinical work is within the Duke Orthopedics and Sports Sciences Institute where she has developed a novel Sports Rheumatology Clinic. This clinic sees nonsurgical rheumatologic diseases presenting to orthopedics as well as athletes with rheumatologic diseases requesting advice on safe physical activity. In these clinics, Dr. Huffman’s treatment approach emphasizes rehabilitation and exercise training as means to rheumatologic, cardiovascular, and general health.
Dr. Huffman is co-Director of the Human Physiology Shared Resource.