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Joseph Valentine Researches Why We Lose Muscle Mass

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Author: Charlotte Anthony | Category: Final Words... | Biology of Aging | Biology of Aging | October 19, 2016

Your name, program, mentor name. 

Joseph Valentine, Biology of Aging, Dr. Nicolas Musi

When did you realize you were passionate about science? 

I cannot recall a specific instance when I realized that I loved science (I have loved it all of my life); however, not to long ago I was using the Nathan Shock Center’s confocal microscope on a Saturday morning. Acquiring images of human muscle cells, which I derived from patient muscle biopsies and stained them for markers of differentiation. The images I was acquiring were beautiful and I came to the realization that biology is amazing and I am so happy to have the chance to glimpse into all of its mysteries. 

It is so incredible to me to think that there are human beings walking around San Antonio and I have their cells in my lab. Even more exciting to me, is that I can manipulate their cells to better understand how human muscle works.

Please tell me about yourself, why did you pick UT Health Science Center, and your program.

I chose UTHSCSA because of its Biology Of Aging program and the Barshop Institute are internationally recognized as one of the leading research facilities on aging biology. This field is unique in that you cannot have a narrow focus but must look at the organism as a whole and understand how multiple systems interact to drive the aging process. 

This facilitates collaboration and inspiration for new experiments from what are seemingly unrelated fields. For instance, I study skeletal muscle function and yet I’ve attended seminars on the aging immune system and nervous system, which were directly relevant to my own work.

Tell me about your research. Why are you passionate about your research topic? 

My research focuses mainly on sarcopenia, which is aging associated loss of skeletal muscle mass and function. I became interested in muscle physiology in high school when I developed a passion for weight lifting. Before I had ever considered biomedical research as a career path I was privy to PubMed and I would look up scientific studies on what type of nutritional supplements led to the greatest gains in muscle mass and strength in participants who underwent resistance exercise training programs (and you would be surprised at how many myths about exercise are dispelled in the literature). 

When I found my current lab, which asks questions about how inflammation and exercise impact skeletal muscle especially during aging I knew that I had found a great fit. Everything that I learn in lab about muscle biology I can actually apply to my own life.

What do you want the public to know about your research? 

This is my rationale for studying sarcopenia. Roughly half of a person's body mass is comprised of skeletal muscle until the age of 50 where it begins to decline by one to three percent per year. The reduction in health span attributed to sarcopenia consists mainly of: loss of mobility, increased frailty, hospitalization, admittance to nursing homes, and a general loss of independence. 

Along with these devastating consequences faced by individuals afflicted with sarcopenia, society also pays a high price, as sarcopenia related disabilities cost the U.S. nearly 18 billion dollars a year. Current treatment options for sarcopenia are limited, costly, and time consuming with low patient adherence. Therefore, elucidation of the cellular and molecular mechanisms responsible for sarcopenia is paramount and can result in new drug treatments for this debilitating disease.

Also, I think that subjectively people begin to “feel their age” when they can no longer move in the same way as when they were younger. In other words they become fatigued much more quickly, have more difficulty lifting heavy objects and I think that the questions we are asking in my lab may lead to treatments, which keep skeletal muscle youthful even at advanced age. Allowing people to be more energized and active even late in life.

What was your best memory during graduate school or what did you learn? 

My best memory this far in grad school was when my abstract was selected for an oral presentation at an international conference on health and exercise held at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratories. After finishing the talk (and it going well) I promptly went to the bar for a drink where I met Dr. James Watson, the most infamous Nobel laureate of all time and had a conversation with him, which inevitably led to me taking pictures with him!!!

What do you like to do outside of graduate school?

Outside of school I am very active, I love hiking, fishing, hunting, surfing though that is harder to do in Texas, cooking, and working out.

What’s next? 

Once my Ph.D. is completed I would like to go on to a postdoc and be productive enough to eventually acquire a position as an academic researcher.

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