Support teaching, research, and patient care.
Dr. Heller’s laboratory currently works in two rather different areas: The roles of sleep and circadian rhythms in learning and memory, and human temperature regulation. The focus in the first area of the lab’s work is on the learning disability of Down syndrome. This work has resulted in identification of a class of drugs that restores the ability to learn and remember in mouse models of Down syndrome. One of these compounds has already been in phase 2 clinical studies. This work has led to the discovery of a previously unrecognized function of circadian rhythms that promotes the consolidation of memories during sleep. The second area of the Heller lab’s research is human temperature regulation. Dr. Heller has studied the brain control of body temperature in mammals for many years, much of it focused on hibernation. This work led to the development of a post-anesthesia method to rewarm patients. A resulting discovery was that the primary heat exchange body surfaces of humans are the glabrous skin of the palms, soles, and face. Subsequently the lab developed a technology to rapidly extract heat from the body through one or more of these surfaces. Using such devices, the lab discovered that the major cause of muscle fatigue and failure is rise in temperature of the muscle, and extraction of heat leads to rapid recovery and continued work capacity. Increasing work volume dramatically increases physical conditioning. A commercial version of this technology is now used in athletics. Additional applications include continuous cooling of workers in personal protection gear such as that worn by fire-fighters and hazmat workers. and any other individuals who have to work in the high heat or while being encapsulated for protection from biological or radiological hazards. Other applications include reduction of symptoms in MS patients and going back to our original work, perioperative temperature management of human and veterinary patients.
Neurobiology of sleep, circadian rhythms, regulation of body temperature, mammalian hibernation, and human exercise physiology. We study neural mechanisms controlling arousal states and arousal state transitions, the function of sleep, and the neural mechanisms of circadian rhythms. Research on human exercise physiology focuses on the effects of body temperature on physical conditioning and performance. The focus on Down syndrome is exploring the mechanism whereby reduction of GABA activity restores learning and memory in DS mice and also in mouse models of Alzheimer's disease.