NIH Grant to U of A Funds Study of Muscle Wasting

June 29, 2017

Nicholas Greene
Nicholas Greene

University of Arkansas assistant professor Nicholas Greene has received a $412,668 grant from the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases of the National Institutes of Health to study ways to prevent muscle atrophy, which accompanies many diseases, impairing body function and hastening death.

"We know that 20 to 40 percent of deaths from cancer are directly related to cachexia (muscle wasting that accompanies cancer)," Greene said. "If a person with cancer can maintain the rest of the body health, including preventing muscle wasting, their chance of survival is better."

The three-year grant is intended to enhance the exposure of students to biomedical research.

"These grants are incredibly competitive," said Michael T. Miller, dean of the College of Education and Health Professions. "Nic winning this grant is a credit to him and his growing research presence on campus and in this field of research. This is the kind of career-launching grant that will bring even more national attention to the good work of our exercise science faculty."

Muscle atrophy, or muscle wasting, commonly reduces quality and quantity of life in conjunction with many chronic diseases, and, unfortunately, the nature of these different forms of muscle wasting tends to vary, Greene said. His team of researchers will study muscle wasting in cancer and disuse, specifically.

Muscle wasting occurs in multiple forms, he explained, including disuse such as when a person is on bedrest for some reason or in low-gravity situations such as spaceflight. The other results from diseases. Researchers believe degeneration of mitochondria may play a part and be a common aspect among forms of muscle wasting. Mitochondria, often called the powerhouse of cells, are tiny structures that convert glucose and fats to usable energy.

Interventions in use now to prevent muscle atrophy don't work well, requiring a closer look at mechanisms of muscle atrophy to improve treatment approaches, Greene said.

"It's our idea that mitochondria might degenerate before muscle wasting begins, so if we can identify when that happens and preserve the health of the mitochondria, we might prevent muscle wasting," he said.  

If correct, the team will have evidence for a common mechanism for the development of muscle wasting that may be targeted in development of therapeutic and preventive measures.

Greene, who teaches and conducts research in exercise science in the College of Education and Health Professions, directs the Integrative Muscle Metabolism Laboratory at the U of A. He will serve as lead researcher on the grant project with assistance from Tyrone Washington, also an assistant professor of exercise science; Walter Bottje and Byung-Whi Kong, a professor and associate professor of poultry science, respectively, in the Dale Bumpers College of Agricultural, Food and Life Sciences; Narasimhan Rajaram, an assistant professor of biomedical engineering in the College of Engineering; and Michael Wiggs, an assistant professor of kinesiology at the University of Texas at Tyler.

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