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July 28, 2015

New Sinergia project at Biozentrum for muscle wasting at high age

The Sinergia program of the Swiss National Science Foundation (SNSF) has approved this year the Biozentrum-housed research project entitled "Molecular underpinnings of age-related muscle loss". The project, funded with a total of 1.65 Million Swiss Francs for a period of three years, is led by Prof. Markus Rüegg and further includes the research groups of Prof. Christoph Handschin and Prof. Mihaela Zavolan, all at the Biozentrum of the University of Basel.

SNSF Sinergia grantees: Prof. Christoph Handschin, Prof. Markus Rüegg and Prof. Mihaela Zavolan

The aim of the Sinergia research project "Molecular underpinnings of age-related muscle loss" is to explore the molecular mechanisms and major signaling pathways that lead to muscle wasting, known as sarcopenia, at advanced age. The Biozentrum research teams will examine various mouse models in which muscle degradation is accelerated or slowed down. Sarcopenia results in the restriction of mobility and movement in elderly people, which in turn lead to an increase in falls and injuries. Given that the aged population continues to expand in the industrialized nations, sarcopenia has become a problem of high socio-economic relevance, which poses new challenges for policy and healthcare systems.

Some of the factors that are involved in sarcopenia are already known. "We know that sports and an appropriate diet positively affect the muscle. The protein PGC1alpha also improves muscle functionality and its connections to the corresponding nerves," explains Christoph Handschin, a cell biologist who has studied the protein PGC1alpha for some time. "There is evidence that the activation of the mTOR protein impairs the muscles, accelerating the development of sarcopenia," says Markus Rüegg, the cell and neurobiologist who leads the Sinergia Project. To understand how these factors interact and to identify possible therapeutic interventions, long-term experiments, in multiple models, and comprehensive measurements are needed. “Now, both the animal models and comprehensive measurement technologies are established, so we are in a position to identify mechanisms that are at work in all of these systems and thereby generally relevant for aging“, explains Markus Rüegg.  One of the mouse models that will be used in the study was obtained by the Muscle Group at Novartis Institutes for BioMedical Research (NIBR), which is also a partner in the Sinergia project, but is not financially supported by the SNSF. The system biologist Mihaela Zavolan will help analyze and integrate the extensive and diverse data sets, aside from pursuing a sub-project concerning the influence of diet on sarcopenia.

The Sinergia program of the SNSF supports collaborative projects between three to six research groups. This year, out of the 126 submitted proposals, 42 have been funded with a total of 63.8 million Swiss Francs. This focused program enables researchers to venture into new inter-disciplinary areas, to jointly tackle complex scientific questions and carry out research that is highly competitive at an international level.

Contact: Communications, Heike Sacher