This section provides a brief history of the method since its invention in the 1950s.
The doubly-labelled water method is a technique for measuring the energy expenditure of an animal or human unencumbered by the traditional apparatus for measuring gas exchange (indirect calorimetry) or heat production (direct calorimetry). The method was invented in the 1950s by Nathan Lifson and his research group at the University of Minneapolis in the USA. Between 1955 and 1958 Lifson published 5 papers which established the theoretical basis of the method and validated its use in small rodents by comparison to indirect calorimetry (Lifson et al 1955; McClintock and Lifson, 1958a, b, c, d). The first application of the method to measure the energy demands of a free-living animal involved measurements of the energy demands of flight in homing pigeons (Lefebvre, 1964). In 1966 Lifson and McClintock published a classic paper where they set out the theoretical assumptions on which the method was based. By the end of 2008 this paper had been cited 670 times. Although the technique had obvious potential to revolutionise our understanding of animal and human energetics it was used only sporadically in the late 1960s and 1970s. This was primarily for two reasons. First it was very expensive to buy the oxygen-18 isotope on which the method depended. Second, doing the offline chemistry necessary to apply the method was extremely laborious. Two researchers rose to prominence at this time and together accounted for almost all the publications using the method. These were Ken Nagy at UCLA in the USA, and David Bryant in the UK.
In 1980 Ken Nagy (to right) wrote an influential review of the method (Cited 293 times by Dec 2008) (Nagy 1980) and in 1983 followed this up with a practical guide to its application in animals (Nagy, 1983). He is now professor emeritus at UCLA. His web site can be accessed via the following web link www.eeb.ucla.edu/indivfaculty.php
In 1982 the first application of the method in humans was published by Dale Schoeller (Schoeller and van Santen, 1982) There followed an intense period of technical development of the method and vigorous debate over the correct methodologies to be employed and the correct equations to use to convert the estimated isotope turnovers into energy expenditure. The key paper in which the different approaches for use in humans were summarised was published by Schoeller and colleagues in 1986 (cited 283 times by Dec 2008) (Schoeller et al 1986). Dale (to left) is now at the university of Wisconsin at Madison. His web site can be accessed at the following link (www.aging.wisc.edu/research).
In 1987 the International Dietary Energy consultancy group of the IAEA convened a meeting in Cambridge UK to which the 24 main users of the method at that time were invited to discuss the methodology. This culminated in a booklet published 3 years later in 1990 which summarised many of the technical and calculation issues being debated at the time (Ed. Prentice, 1990). The meeting was held at the Dunn nutrition unit and was hosted by Andrew Prentice and Andy Coward.
Use of the method continued to grow exponentially through the late 1980s and into the early 1990s (see plot). By the mid 1990s the technique was being published on about 90-115 times annually.
Doubly-labelled water: theory and practice by John Speakman
In 1997 my book on the method was published. By the end of 2008 it had been cited 265 times. Applications of the method and validations continue to be generated at the rate of 100-120 papers annually (data from web of Science – see plot). To the end of 2008 approximately 1800 papers had been published with the terms doubly-labelled water (or doubly-labeled water: American spelling) in the title or abstract. The most prolific users of the method (correct at dec 2008) using the same search terms in the WOS database have been (ordered by primary peer reviewed publications). Apologies if you have been left off this list but feel you should be on it.
Please contact me at (firstname.lastname@example.org) and I'll add you to the users list.
# Excludes citations for DLW book
*Eric Poehlman was convicted and imprisoned for scientific fraud in 2006.
Lifson, N., Gordon, G.B. and McClintock, R. (1955) Measurement of total carbon dioxide production by means of D218O. J. Appl. Physiol., 7, 704-710.
Lifson, N., Gordon, G.B., Visscher, M.B. and Nier, A.O. (1949) The fate of utilised molecular oxygen and the source of the oxygen of respiratory carbon dioxide, studied with the aid of heavy oxygen. J. Biol. Chem. A , 180, 803-811.
Lifson, N. and McClintock R. (1966) Theory of use of the turnover rates of body water for measuring energy and material balance. J. Theor. Biol., 12, 46-74.
Nagy, K.A. (1983) The doubly labelled water (3HH18O) method : a guide to its use. UCLA publication 12-1417. UCLA California. 45 pages.
Schoeller, D. A., Ravussin, E., Schutz, Y., Acheson, K.J., Baertschi, P. and
Jequier, E. (1986) Energy expenditure by doubly labelled water: validation in humans and proposed calculation. Am. J. Physiol., 250, R823-R830.
Schoeller, D.A. and van Santen, E. (1982) Measurement of energy expenditure in humans by doubly labelled water. J. Appl. Physiol., 53, 955-959.