Understanding more clearly what causes loss of
muscle mass in old age could help some older people live
happier, more productive lives.
That is the view of University of Otago MSc physiology
student John Brady.
He recently received a $6000 Hope-Selwyn Foundation
scholarship to support research he is undertaking on the role
of nerve degeneration in the decline of muscle mass.
Mr Brady, who has also received an Otago physiology
department scholarship, noted that everyone over the age of
65 experienced some weakness resulting from muscle loss.
This loss of muscle and strength was known as sarcopenia and
was a ''major contributor'' to progressive frailty, loss of
wellbeing and independence, falls and eventually to death.
More use of muscles meant more protection against sarcopenia
in old age but it was unclear why this was the case.
Sarcopenia had become ''an increasingly important issue'',
because people were living longer and many were becoming
increasingly dependent as they aged.
Mr Brady is investigating what is believed to be one of the
main causes of sarcopenia - nerve degeneration. His
that relatively inactive muscles produced very little of a
brain support substance known as neutrophin. This contributed
to the death of associated nerves, causing progressive muscle
Identifying the mechanism involved was important because this
could ''provide a therapeutic target''.
Some kind of antioxidant medication could be developed to
preserve the muscle's ability to support its nerve.
It would also be ''really valuable'' to find more effective
ways to break a downward spiral resulting from older people
becoming less physically active, losing strength and losing
even more muscle mass, he said.