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​Why Do We Lose Muscle As We Age?

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Author: Phillip Webster | Category: Beyond The Bench | Cell Biology, Genetics & Molecular Medicine (CGM) | Cell Biology, Genetics and Molecular Medicine | May 19, 2016

As we get older, we start feeling the harmful effects of losing our skeletal muscle. But why?

Phillip Webster, a graduate student in the Cell and Molecular Medicine track within the Cellular and Structural Biology graduate program is working to find out.

His research is about how mitochondrial function leads to the onset of sarcopenia, the loss of skeletal muscle with age.

“It starts in your late 20’s and increases at about 55 years old. After that we lose about one to two percent per year. You get older, you lose that strength, you’re more prone to falls and the next thing you know you need a life alert, a walker or wheelchair, and a full time nurse; worst case scenario you need constant care in a nursing home,” Webster said.

Webster is working in Dr. Alfred Fisher’s lab and recently was awarded a prestigious National Research Service Award (F31 Fellowship) by the National Institute of Health and National Institute of Aging.

“This fellowship is important to me because it gives me more breathing room for my research to incorporate ideas that I would have otherwise pushed aside until I was in my own lab. More importantly the grant writing process helped me tremendously in communicating my hypotheses and methods in an effective manner to other members of the scientific community. I did feel the need to apologize to my P.I. for the simple fact that he has to do this all the time.”

Sarcopenia is also associated with an increased risk of diabetes.

“Since you lost one of the major organs responsible for glucose uptake,” he said. “Diabetes can in turn exacerbate the loss of muscle, making it even worse.”

Webster is passionate about aging research because he really want to know why we age and why our how far science can push our limited lifespan.

“I became interested in undergrad, after taking a neurobiology course and learning about Alzheimer’s. Until then I was convinced I was going to be a virologist, but then I wondered, why does this process happen in the first place? After a while I decided I wanted to work with my future colleagues in pushing the limits of our knowledge and biology. I also grew up on so many comic books and video games that the rational part of my brain feels this is totally plausible”

In the future, Webster hopes to be a principal investigator with my own lab.

“I love science, its what wakes me up in the morning and what I think about before going to sleep. It keeps me up at night and even on the worst days, weeks, or months I love figuring out the natural world.”

The "Beyond The Bench" series features articles written by students, alumni, and postdoctoral fellows at the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences at The University of Texas Health Science Center San Antonio. 

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