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UTA, Ohio State University win rare federal grant for research aimed at better understanding and treating muscle loss

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Media Contact: Bridget Lewis

News Topics: awards, health and fitness, nursing, research

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Millions of people suffer each day from diabetes, cancer, obesity, heart failure and many other health disorders that involve a loss of muscle or physical function that occurs naturally with aging.

Dr. Marco Brotto

A $250,000 grant from the National Institute on Aging will help internationally recognized muscle physiology scientists at The University of Texas at Arlington and the Ohio State University better understand the molecular mechanisms of muscle aging that can lead to muscle loss and weakness.

The researchers have discovered that in aged skeletal muscles, muscle weakness relates to the reduction of a process called “Store-Operated Calcium Entry” that brings the much-needed calcium used for muscle contractions.

“As humans age, we lose muscle mass, but in contrast we lose significantly more muscle strength, and this leads, for example, to falls and musculoskeletal diseases,” said Dr. Marco Brotto, the UTA George W. and Hazel M. Jay Endowed Professor and director of Bone-Muscle Collaborative Sciences in the UTA College of Nursing and Health Innovation.

Dr. Brotto is partnering with Dr. Noah Weisleder, associate professor of physiology and cell biology and investigator at the Dorothy M. Davis Heart and Lung Research Institute at OSU, on the study. The relatively rare grant from the National Institute on Aging, a division of the National Institutes of Health, is known as an R-56 High Priority, Short-Term Project Award. It provides funding for one year with the goal of earning full funding based on the significance of the studies.

In addition to the Store-Operated Calcium Entry process, the researchers also have discovered that the levels of a muscle specific gene/protein known as mitsugumin 29, or MG29, decrease with aging and that the MG29 protein is important for normal function. The researchers are now proposing new genetic ways to keep MG29 levels optimal during aging as an intervention to the decline of muscle function that normally occurs.

“Because the decrease in MG29 levels occurs in both animals and humans, we see that our pre-clinical project as a very important step towards new understanding of the role of MG29 in muscle aging and potential new future therapies,” Dr. Brotto said.

Dr. Weisleder said that understanding the fundamental mechanisms of how muscle mass and function changes during aging is essential to developing treatments to improve muscle health in the elderly population. Additionally, the findings could be applied to disease states that involve a loss of muscle mass and function.

“Many diseases, including cancer and heart failure, also include a loss of muscle mass and function,” Dr. Weisleder said. “By understanding how this process works in normal aging, we may find clues on how to treat this loss of muscle in diseases as well.”

The 2010 Global Burden of Disease Study by the Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation estimated that 1.7 billion people worldwide are affected by musculoskeletal disorders. Among the almost 300 diseases and injuries evaluated in the GBD study, musculoskeletal disorders rank as the second greatest cause of disability according to the calculated years lived with disability for affected individuals.

“Knowledge and insights that will lead into new mechanisms and future therapies are urgently needed to alleviate the suffering of billions worldwide,” Dr. Brotto said.

Dr. Anne Bavier, dean of the UTA College of Nursing and Health Innovation, commended Dr. Brotto on the National Institute on Aging grant and said his research leadership is helping accelerate the University’s efforts to advance health and the human condition as called for in the Strategic Plan 2020: Bold Solutions | Global Impact.

“Dr. Brotto’s focus on better understanding the cellular and molecular basis of muscle atrophy and weakness that come with aging are adding to the academic and research excellence at UTA and ensuring that our students have access to the most important, current research in this critical field,” Dean Bavier said. “Dr. Brotto is helping UTA address pressing challenges in healthcare, and strengthening our reputation as a leader in health science.”  

About The University of Texas at Arlington

The University of Texas at Arlington is a comprehensive research institution of more than 51,000 students in campus-based and online degree programs and is the second-largest institution in The University of Texas System. The Chronicle of Higher Education ranked UTA as one of the 20 fastest-growing public research universities in the nation in 2014. U.S. News & World Report ranks UTA fifth in the nation for undergraduate diversity. The University is a Hispanic-Serving Institution and is ranked as a “Best for Vets” college by Military Times magazine. Visit www.uta.edu to learn more, and find UTA rankings and recognition at http://www.uta.edu/uta/about/rankings.php.

About the UTA College of Nursing and Health Innovation 

The UTA College of Nursing and Health Innovation is a leader in the development of scientific evidence and educational models that equip nurses and other health care professionals to effectively and quickly integrate into the healthcare scientific and practice workforce.  With 19,000 students in campus-based online degree programs, the College is one of the largest and most successful in the United States. Academic programs prepare individuals for clinical practice, teaching, research, leadership, administration, and health care policy. Visit www.uta.edu/nursing/ to learn more.

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The University of Texas at Arlington is an Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action employer.