New preventative measures and therapies sought to preserve mobility
The ageing process often leads to a loss in strength and muscle waste. Researchers at Friedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg (FAU) are trying to find solutions to this problem in a joint research project together with researchers from the universities of Würzburg and Munich. The project ‘FORMOsA: muscle waste (sarcopenia) and osteoporosis – consequences of limited old-age regeneration’ receives funding of about four million euros, granted in equal parts by the Bavarian Research Foundation and industry partners.
Next to osteoporosis and cardiovascular diseases, muscle waste, also known as sarcopenia, is one of the most common health problems in the elderly and can severely impact their autonomy. More than 20 percent of those over 65 and more than 80 percent of all those in need of care and over the age of 80 are affected by muscle waste – this means approximately 50 million people worldwide. The patients often require assistance or even intensive care. Sarcopenia is caused by a lack of physical activity and dietary problems – often as a result of other diseases – but genetic factors also play an important role. The patients also often develop osteoporosis at a later point.
It is FORMOsA’s goal to develop measures for the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of old-age muscle waste. FAU research teams are working on three main areas. Researchers led by Prof. Dr. Cornel Sieber, Chair of Internal Medicine (Geriatrics) and Prof. Dr. Klaus Engelke, Chair of Medical Physics and the Osteoporosis Centre, are developing a prevention and treatment programme for overweight, elderly women. On the one hand, the patients have to lose weight carefully – the researches are planning a special diet to help achieve this. On the other hand, the women must not lose any muscle mass – quite the contrary: careful exercise is meant to stimulate muscle formation. The researchers plan to use electric stimuli on the muscles all over the body to aid this process. In parallel, the research group led by Prof. Dr. Cornelius Bollheimer, Institute for Biomedicine of Ageing, examines on the molecular level why high-fat diets or obesity are particular driving factors for sarcopenia.
In the second project at the Institute of Medical Physics, new imaging and analysis methods for sarcopenia are being developed under the leadership of Prof. Dr. Harald Quick and Prof. Dr. Klaus Engelke. Muscle and fat mass are measured separately with three-dimensional imaging technology.
In the third project, researchers led by Prof. Dr. Georg Schett, Chair of Rheumatology and Immunology, develop methods with which magnetic resonance imaging can show centres of inflammation such as those commonly found on the hands of muscle waste patients. This way, the medical scientists can see whether the chosen form of treatment was truly successful. The researchers are also investigating the strengthening of the hand muscles through vibrations as a treatment method. This therapy could also help patients with rheumatoid arthritis and improve the use of their hands.