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Benjamin D. Levine, MD

The Institute for Exercise and Environmental Medicine, a joint venture between UT Southwestern and Presbyterian Hospital, opens. The brainchild of Benjamin D. Levine, MD, UT Southwestern Assistant Professor of Internal Medicine, its mission is to use techniques of exercise and environmental physiology to better understand the limits of human functional capacity in health, aging, and disease.

Years later, research from the Institute for Exercise and Environmental Medicine would save lives.

Translational Research

Translational research is the practice of applying findings from basic science to enhance human health and well-being. This was certainly the case for the findings and research that went on to shape the course of an unforeseen disaster.

On August 5, 2010, a cave-in traps 33 miners nearly half a mile underground in the San José Mine in Chile. During their 69 days of confinement, the miners’ determination to survive captivates and inspires the world.

The successful outcome had its roots at UT Southwestern, when in 1990, Benjamin Levine, MD, joined the faculty and two years later became the founding Director of the Institute for Exercise and Environmental Medicine. For more than a decade, his innovative, NASA-funded research studied the effects of long-duration space flight on the cardiovascular system.

As a result of this research and his expertise in understanding the effects of aging and exercise on the heart and blood vessels, he and two NASA flight surgeon colleagues develop the protocols to safely extract the miners, deploying the discoveries originally designed for use miles above the Earth to instead rescue the men 2,000 feet beneath its surface.

“Prolonged confinement in a small space brings similar concerns, whether someone is in space or underground,” Dr. Levine says. “After such confinement, individuals can experience fainting and a potentially devastating loss of blood to the brain.”

It is determined that the rescue capsule needs to be wide enough for the miners to cross their legs and squeeze their thighs and buttocks together to push blood back up to their hearts. The men wear compression stockings and are trained to cough if they feel lightheaded in order to force blood to the brain.

Group of miners

First rescuer, Manuel González, preparing to enter the capsule for the 2,000 ft. descent to the trapped miners at San José Mine in Copiapo, Chile.

“If they had fainted, they would have died,” Dr. Levine says. With the entire world watching, all 33 men make it out safely. “I’m so overcome with emotion now, as if I’ve been touched by God,” says Alfonso Ávalos, shortly after his son, Florencio Ávalos, 31, becomes the first miner to emerge from below. “My boy is finally safe. My boy is finally safe.”

A profound moment for translational research.

Promoting Wellness

Heart Disease Research

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Benjamin Levine M.D., Professor of Internal Medicine at UT Southwestern, has conducted groundbreaking research on heart disease, circulation, and cardiovascular adaption during exercise. His work has been a major factor in defining the beneficial effects of aging on the heart and the mechanisms of the protective effects of exercise.