Exercise scientists receive $617,902 grant to study skeletal muscle function

September 1, 2004

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By Patrick J. Callahan

A group of researchers led by Jane Kent-Braun, professor of Exercise Science, has received a five-year, $617,902 career award grant from the National Institutes of Health/National Institute on Aging, to study skeletal muscle function in older adults. The grant is designed to complement and expand a study currently under way by Kent-Braun and her colleagues on how aging affects muscles‚ ability to resist fatigue.

The research is underway because it is known that deterioration of muscle function is a primary cause of lost independence and physical function in old age. While it is clear that muscle mass, or size, is lost as we age, it remains unclear whether there are changes in the quality of the muscle, as well. Interventions designed to minimize or reverse the age-related losses in muscle function will benefit from a better understanding of the mechanisms behind these losses. It is hoped that the results of this project will clarify these mechanisms.

This new round of funding will allow Kent-Braun and her team to focus on expanding their expertise in using the latest in magnetic resonance spectroscopy and imaging technologies, improving understanding of factors that control skeletal muscle blood flow, and using new statistical approaches to evaluating complex study data.

"One of the unique and exciting aspects of this project is the way in which we combine expertise and techniques from a variety of fields, including physiology, physics, neuroscience, biochemistry and bioengineering, to the understanding of human physiology from the level of the cell to the whole organism," Kent-Braun says. "The big question is: ''How much of the change in muscle function in old age is due to old age, and how much is due to the decrease in physical activity that accompanies old age?'' As humans, we are the only species that has the capability of consciously altering what is otherwise a natural decline in activity level. This presents us with an exciting opportunity to understand more about the adaptability of our biology. This question is also highly relevant to public health, as the importance of physical activity in the prevention of chronic disease is becoming exceedingly clear."

Kent-Braun''s colleagues in the multi-disciplinary research program include Graham Caldwell, associate professor of Exercise Science, and John Buonaccorsi, professor of Mathematics and Statistics; Maura Brennan, M.D., at Baystate Medical Center in Springfield; and professors Douglas Rothman and Doug Befroy at Yale University; and Bruce Damon at Vanderbilt University. A number of graduate students in Exercise Science are also participating in this project as part of their graduate training.

The project will be headquartered at the Exercise Science Department in the Totman Building. In addition, work will also be done at the Magnetic Resonance Research Center at Yale University‚s School of Medicine.