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Improving heat wave responses in elderly individuals

The interaction between climate change, natural ageing, and sedentary behaviour make the elderly (65+ years old) a highly vulnerable cohort for heat-related illness during heat waves. This is a pressing public health concern given the number of older individuals is increasing (Caley and Sidhu 2011), and heat waves are forecast to become more frequent and intense (Hajat et al. 2014; Smith et al. 2016). At a population level, morbidity and mortality increase by ~30% during a heat wave (Michelozzi et al. 2009; D’Ippoliti et al. 2010) with older individuals at increased risk due to impaired heat loss pathways. For example, the 2019 UK summer saw three heat waves with 892 excess deaths in 65+ year olds in that 17 day time period (Public Health England 2019a), in 2020 three more severe heat waves were associated with 2,244 excess deaths over 19 days (Public Health England 2020). Further to deaths, heat waves are also associated with an economic and healthcare burden given proportional increases of non-fatal cases requiring medical intervention.

Whilst heat wave policies propose heat avoidance strategies for older individuals (Public Health England 2019b), many of this population group have low socio-economic support thus facilitating these actions is challenging (Yardley et al. 2011). In light of this, simple, effective interventions to reduce heat strain without high costs, or the need for extensive equipment or social support are warranted.

The proposed body of work within this project will first characterise physiological i.e. thermoregulatory, sudomotor and cardiovascular, responses to a simulated heat wave in older vs younger individuals (Gibson et al. 2015b; Chiesa et al. 2015), as well as providing novel data pertaining to the systemic response e.g. endotoxins, inflammatory markers, heat shock proteins (Gibson et al. 2014, 2015c, a, 2016; Willmott et al. 2018). Following this, the efficacy of interventions to alleviate heat strain during a heat wave e.g. hydration and cooling strategies (Trangmar et al. 2014; James et al. 2015; Marshall et al. 2020), will be examined.

Candidates for this project will likely have a background in exercise, environmental, health, and/or sport physiology, though full training will be received as required.


  • Caley M, Sidhu K (2011) Estimating the future healthcare costs of an aging population in the UK: expansion of morbidity and the need for preventative care. J Public Health (Bangkok) 33:117–122. doi: 10.1093/pubmed/fdq044 Chiesa ST,
  • Trangmar SJ, Kalsi KK, et al (2015) Local temperature-sensitive mechanisms are important mediators of limb tissue hyperemia in the heat-stressed human at rest and during small muscle mass exercise. Am J Physiol Circ Physiol 309:H369–H380. doi: 10.1152/ajpheart.00078.2015
  • D’Ippoliti D, Michelozzi P, Marino C, et al (2010) The impact of heat waves on mortality in 9 European cities: Results from the EuroHEAT project. Environ Heal A Glob Access Sci Source 9:. doi: 10.1186/1476-069X-9-37
  • Gibson OR, Dennis A, Parfitt T, et al (2014) Extracellular Hsp72 concentration relates to a minimum endogenous criteria during acute exercise-heat exposure. Cell Stress Chaperones 19:389–400. doi: 10.1007/s12192-013-0468-1
  • Gibson OR, Mee JA, Taylor L, et al (2015a) Isothermic and fixed-intensity heat acclimation methods elicit equal increases in Hsp72 mRNA. Scand J Med Sci Sports 25:259–268. doi: 10.1111/sms.12430
  • Gibson OR, Mee JA, Tuttle JA, et al (2015b) Isothermic and fixed intensity heat acclimation methods induce similar heat adaptation following short and long-term timescales. J Therm Biol 49–50:55–65
  • Gibson OR, Turner G, Tuttle JA, et al (2015c) Heat acclimation attenuates physiological strain and the HSP72, but not HSP90α, mRNA response to acute normobaric hypoxia. J Appl Physiol 119:889–99. doi: 10.1152/japplphysiol.00332.2015

How to apply

If you are interested in applying for the above PhD topic please follow the steps below:

  1. Contact the supervisor by email or phone to discuss your interest and find out if you woold be suitable. Supervisor details can be found on this topic page. The supervisor will guide you in developing the topic-specific research proposal, which will form part of your application.
  2. Click on the 'Apply here' button on this page and you will be taken to the relevant PhD course page, where you can apply using an online application.
  3. Complete the online application indicating your selected supervisor and include the research proposal for the topic you have selected.

Good luck!

This is a self funded topic

Brunel offers a number of funding options to research students that help cover the cost of their tuition fees, contribute to living expenses or both. See more information here: https://www.brunel.ac.uk/research/Research-degrees/Research-degree-funding. The UK Government is also offering Doctoral Student Loans for eligible students, and there is some funding available through the Research Councils. Many of our international students benefit from funding provided by their governments or employers. Brunel alumni enjoy tuition fee discounts of 15%.

Meet the Supervisor(s)

Oliver Gibson - Dr Oliver Gibson is a Senior Lecturer in Exercise Physiology and a member of staff in the Division of Sport, Health and Exercise Sciences, Department of Life Sciences and a member of the Centre for Human Performance, Exercise and Rehabilitation. Oliver was awarded his Ph.D from the University of Brighton in 2015 following undergraduate and postgraduate study at the institution where he obtained MSc Sport and Exercise Physiology, PGCE Post Compulsory Education, and BSc (Hons) Sport and Exercise Science degrees. Oliver is a fellow of the Higher Education Academy. Oliver regularly publishes within peer-reviewed journals predominantly in the field of Exercise and Environmental Physiology with a particular focus on acute and chronic responses to heat and/or hypoxic stress, and subsequent sporting and clinical/health applications. Oliver’s research also examines cross adaptation between environmental stressors, and the mechanistic role(s) of heat shock proteins in thermal adaptation. These publications can be viewed in the 'Selected Publications' tab. Oliver provides peer-review for a number of international journals, and has presented at a number of national and international conferences winning several young investigator awards.