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NIH awards $1.4 million to Heritage College to study muscle strength loss in seniors

(ATHENS, Ohio — Oct. 16, 2014) Weakened muscles in people over the age of 65 may not be caused by a loss of muscle mass. Provocative results from several studies suggest that reduced muscle function may be tied to brain and nervous system activity. Now, a $1,376,867 grant awarded by the National Institutes of Health to the Ohio University Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine will allow researchers to more closely examine that connection.

The four-year study is being conducted by Brian Clark, Ph.D., professor of neuromuscular physiology at the Heritage College and executive director of the Ohio Musculoskeletal and Neurological Institute. The study will use noninvasive techniques to better understand the role the brain and nervous system play in reduced muscle strength. Muscle weakness is a serious public health issue for aging populations, as it interferes with physical activity, limits mobility and increases injury and mortality in senior citizens.

“Although it’s commonly believed that muscle mass regulates strength, there’s actually an abundance of evidence indicating that other factors are involved,” said Clark. “This study will shed more light on the specific neurological mechanisms responsible for age-related loss of strength, such as changes in brain and motor neuron form and function.”

The study will also test the effectiveness of cognitive and physical activity exercise interventions to see which is more effective at preventing the loss of muscle strength. An advisory board of senior citizens in the broader Athens area will provide recommendations about the type of interventions that would be most compatible with the lifestyle and abilities of aging adults. The study, officially named Unraveling the Neural Contributions of Dynapenia in Elders (The UNCODE Study), is expected to begin recruiting participants over the age of 65 in the spring of 2015.

“Through rigorous, cutting-edge research that challenges established paradigms, we can change lives,” said Heritage College Executive Dean Kenneth H. Johnson, D.O. “But it’s also important to note that clinical studies like Dr. Clark’s could not happen without the participation of our community members. They give us more insight about whether new developments can improve public health.”

The Ohio University Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine is a leader in training dedicated primary care physicians who are prepared to address the most pervasive medical needs in the state and the nation. Approximately 50 percent of Heritage College alumni practice in primary care and nearly 60 percent practice in Ohio. CARE LEADS HERE.
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Last updated: 01/28/2016